This semester's festival set for Dec. 19 and 20

Alyssa Huerta had some valuable insights while creating a portfolio of work around the theme of “youth and future.”

To fulfill a CSU Monterey Bay requirement that all seniors complete a capstone – a creative or research project – the Human Communication major, who presented her capstone last year, wrote three poems and five short stories.

A capstone project is required to graduate from CSUMB"My poems and stories are about what shaped my life,” said Huerta, of Watsonville. “They show the progression of my life from adolescence to adulthood; from an age of innocence to a more troubled world.”

Writing them required her to reflect on her family, her community, and her generation – the Millennials – in a deeper and more meaningful way than she had before registering for the capstone class.

Her project fulfilled a requirement facing graduating seniors at colleges and universities across the country. By requiring a capstone project, the schools want undergraduates to pull together, synthesize and apply years of learning.

At CSUMB, all students have been required to do capstone projects since the first graduating class in 1997. Some of those projects are archived in the campus library. (View the archive here.)

During the Capstone Festival held at the end of each semester, the campus takes on the feel of an intellectual marketplace. At recent festivals, a biology major presented a study of human stem cell proliferation, a social and behavioral sciences major looked at women police officers in American society and a psychology student examined the socialization of sarcasm.

Business students, working in teams, presented strategic business plans for local companies and organizations.

A World Languages and Cultures student gave a 25-minute talk – entirely in Japanese – on the arguments for and against changing Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. A PowerPoint presentation running in the background provided the information in English.

And a music major – with help from his friends – performed a three-movement piece he composed for a brass quartet.

While the projects require a great deal of time and effort, they’re worth it.

"Increasingly, people want to know what students can do with their learning and how they can apply that learning across all the courses in their college," Carol Grear Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, she told The Times, colleges want to do a better job of preparing graduates for the demands of the job market and graduate schools. The capstones, she said, help students "become people who can problem-solve and produce something of high quality."

Research by the National Survey of Student Engagement shows a steady increase in those completing capstones. In 2009, 64 percent of students reported doing such a project compared to nine percent in 2000.

Campus-wide requirements like the one at CSUMB are most common at small liberal arts colleges. At nearly 40 percent of universities, some individual departments require them. Examples include UCLA, the University of Utah and Keene State College in New Hampshire. And many schools offer them as options rather than requirements.

The capstone festival is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Dec. 19 and 20. The public is invited. For a schedule by academic department, click here.

The Cinematic Arts and Technology capstone program will be held twice, starting at 1 and 6 p.m., Dec. 19, in the World Theater on Sixth Avenue. To see a list of projects that will be shown, click here.

Driving directions and a campus map are available here.