What’s a Capstone?

The beginning of the Capstone process is weird.  It’s some strange combination of coffee and waiting and throwing away one idea after another.  This period can last days or weeks or sometimes for an entire semester.  Sometimes, If you’re really unlucky it’ll last well into the project itself.

It is, in a word, hard. What makes it so hard is that there are no rules.  Not really, you go to a brainstorming session and you sit in a room surrounded by other students–many just as lost as you are–and you talk about what you’ve seen others do and what you want to do.  And while you’re sitting there listening to someone tell you about their project idea, you throw away another one of yours, because some part of you thinks that it isn’t acceptable or that it isn’t good enough.

But, that part of you, the part telling you to throw away your ideas or give up on a concept is loud, too loud to allow you to hear the voice telling you that you’re enough, that your idea is enough. And often, it is.  But many students, students like me, spend so much time comparing what they want to do to the things other people have done that they fail to see the value in what they’re doing or thinking of doing.

And that’s the hardest part.  The pre-proposal, the proposal, the project itself, they’re not the part that’ll leave you crying or have you up  until three in the morning–they might, if that’s the way you are, but you get the idea. The part that will steel your sleep and make you cry and leave you ready to drop out, is the brainstorming, because it’s the part that has no rules.

When you write a pre-proposal or a proposal, you have guidelines.  You have to tell them what you want to do, why you want to do it, and why it should be considered an appropriate Honors Capstone project.  The project itself has guidelines, you have to turn in documentation and results and sources.  Even the final presentation has guidelines, a time limit, a layout.  But the brainstorming part is an abyss.

You stare at your computer and read what others have done and think about what you’re passionate about, and then you come up with an idea and you start playing around with it and you think you’ve got what you need, and then you give it up because you see something that steals your certainty and you start over.

Capstone projects are hard, they’re meant to be, that’s the reason they exist, to test you.  But the beginning, is exponentially harder than the end.

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