10 tips for conquering capstone

Famuan columnist Catherine Bryant. Photo by Bryant

School of Journalism & Graphic Communication seniors graduating next month have just completed capstone presentations. Unfortunately, many students do not know all the requirements until they sit in the capstone class their graduating semester. This needs to change.

Underclassmen should be well-prepared for this important moment that decides their future.

While many go into capstone with fear and anxiety about receiving the grade that determines whether or not they will be graduating, this experience does not have to be negative. If done correctly it can be very rewarding. That being said, capstone is not something that can be pushed to the last minute.

Going into my senior year I watched multiple graduating seniors miss entire nights of sleep and express to me how horrible the process of preparing for capstone was. My experience was nothing like theirs. As many of my classmates and I prepared for and successfully finished capstone, I heard many bits of advice that I believe are worth passing on to students to come.

In no particular order, here are the 10 best pieces of advice I can give for anyone looking not only to pass capstone but to excel in it and maybe even enjoy it.

  1. Portfolios are NOT due at the end of the semester, they are due in the middle. Make sure you plan ahead when it comes to assembling your work samples and articles. Stay ahead of the deadline if possible.
  2. Just because you write an article does not mean that it will be approved for capstone. You are required to have 10 published articles that are approved by your capstone professor. Articles should be a mix of news, opinion, sports and lifestyle content. Review your articles with your capstone colloquium professor earlier than later so that you do not have to rush to get approved articles before the deadline. You do not have to wait until you are in the capstone class to approve your articles.
  3. Save your work samples from your classes. The majority of major-specific work samples I used in my presentation came directly from the class assignments that I received a high grade in. If you do not receive a high grade in an assignment that you would like to use, make corrections and revise it with your professor to make it capstone worthy.
  4. Go look through alumni portfolios. There is a large collection of successful capstone portfolios sitting in Professor Francine Huff’s office on the third floor and many professors keep successful portfolios from J-school alumni. You are sitting on a goldmine of examples. Choose what you like from their portfolios and create your own expression of it.
  5. Do not rely on anyone else or anything else. When you get into the presentation room on the day of your capstone the only person that will be helping you, is you. Group study may not work for you. Find the answers for yourself, do not wait for someone else to find the correct (or incorrect) answer for you. If you are unsure of your research, verify answers with professors ahead of time. Make time for things to go wrong. For example, printers not working, long lines at the binding shop, professors not emailing you back right away, clothing malfunctions, etc.
  6. Understand that a website takes a good deal of time to create (as in hours and hours). Personalize your website and create something that reflects your personality and showcases your specific work. Broadcast students’ websites will look different from public relations students’ websites and vice versa. Make sure that you check your website layout on different computers BEFORE you present.
  7. Know the law and ethics questions inside and out. Prepare for all the questions and have other people quiz you on the spot when preparing. Details are important in your answer, they reveal how thorough your preparation was. Find current events that you can relate to these law and ethics questions in your discussion because you WILL be asked how these questions affect us today.
  8. Tell your story. It is not often that we get the opportunity to share our unique story of how we got to this point in our lives. Nobody knows your story better than you and nobody should be more proud of this journey than you. Do not try to be someone else or explain someone else’s work. Explain your work confidently and tell your story.
  9. Work in student media and/or make friends with people involved with student media. All of student media is located in convergence. Walk around in there and ask some questions. Figure out what you are interested in and get started. This is the easiest way to get experience and get published.
  10. The hype is not real but do not let your guard down. The atmosphere in capstone presentations is surprisingly relaxed. Arrive early so that you can sit down and breathe before you are called in to present. Panelists are looking for confidence and quality of work. Do not let classmates scare YOU because THEY are unprepared. Trust in your work. However, do not be so relaxed and casual that you forget to bring your A-game. At the end of the day, capstone is a big deal so treat it as such and prepare yourself accordingly to avoid making it a nightmare.

The choice is yours.