A Capstone About Cats: Reflections on Our Senior Capstone

By Claire Golden and Erika Nelson

It was complete coincidence that two PSU Chronicles bloggers — Erika and Claire — ended up in the same Senior Capstone, but we wanted to reflect on our experience. This was far and away the most involved class we’d ever taken, but it was also one of the most rewarding…in large part because our work impacted the real world.

Our class was called “Grant Writing for Shelter Pets.” In a Capstone, you work directly with a community partner — in our case, a non-profit cat shelter in Vancouver, Washington called Furry Friends. We worked in groups writing grant proposals for Furry Friends (Claire worked in the group seeking medical funding for seriously ill cats, and Erika was in the group focused on building a new “kitty condo” structure.) This wasn’t just another course–it had real-world ramifications. The fate of hundreds of cats were directly influenced by our commitment to the grantwriting process–for example, these grant proposals could be the difference between Furry Friends getting funding for life-threatening medical conditions, influencing whether cats live or die. 

This course was intense! Capstones always take up a lot of time and energy. We found it’s best to plan for contingencies that could affect your stamina and focus–life happens sometimes (sometimes in ways we can never anticipate), but you can try to be prepared for things likely to happen. Remember that this class is six credits, which is basically a class-and-a-half. So it’s going to take longer than you’re used to…and it’s a 400-level course. To be safe, treat this class as two regular classes and then you’ll know how to budget enough time.

A huge part of the class involved communication, and while we’d done group work in previous classes, it was nothing to this extent. It was tricky doing distance communication; although this was an online class even before most other classes were remote, not being able to meet with the whole group in person proved challenging. We found group emails, group texts, and Google Docs to be invaluable (pro tip: make sure everyone is looking at the same Google Doc to avoid confusion). It’s essential to communicate with your groupmates, your instructor, and the community partner. It’s way better to double-check something than to miss something.

It’s important to keep in mind that since Capstones involve community service, you might be emotionally affected by the project and the community partner’s stories. Be sure to practice self-care and make use of your support network if necessary. We read stories about animal abuse that made us feel sick, but that was just more motivation to work hard.

In the end, we’re both proud of our work and happy that we made the decision to take this Capstone. We both learned so much–not only about the grantwriting process, but about collaboration, research, and harnessing empathy to do good.

I Can See Clearly Now

By: Sharon Nellist

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Two years ago, as a junior transfer student to Portland State from a two-year college in Florida, I did not have the luxury of Freshman and Sophomore Inquiry and wondered what University Studies was. When I found out, I was for lack of better words, “pissed off” that I had to spend more money just to take more general education. There was to be three junior cluster courses and a capstone in my immediate future.

A couple of film classes and an English course to cover the Popular Culture junior cluster did the trick. Now what about the Senior Capstone?

My mind was absolutely changed about University Studies when I began the Effective Change Agent Senior Capstone, especially during our recent class project.My community partner site for Student Leaders for Service is Albertina Kerr’s Project Grow, a unique nonprofit program encompassing an art studio, gallery and urban farm that provides various job opportunities and endless possibilities in artistic media for individuals with developmental disabilities. We decided to continue an archiving project that I had begun in the fall term at Project Grow by photo documenting the artists’ artwork into a professional and efficient system. Our class immersed ourselves in an unfamiliar community with our minds solely focused on selfless service. The idea of ‘scaling across’ (which we have been discussing throughout the term), where people of different cultures and backgrounds bring forward their experience and knowledge to create something that will fit the needs of those whom it is for, was prevalent during our time there.

It is the community based learning in the capstone courses that I believe is essential to a successful academic career. Your perspective of the world will be wider even if nothing else is taken away from this experience.

What is your capstone story?