“I Know What I Need to Do Now.”

Student Research and the Honors College Capstone Showcase
By Matt Matsuda, Academic Dean of the Honors College

“Good explanation of complex issues.” “Strong methodology and some sophisticated hypotheses.” “Difficult material but won us over with smart and energetic responses to questions.”

As I watched and listened, the students got the feedback they’d been waiting for. After a year or more of hard work, almost fifty soon-to-graduate researchers, investigators, and creators were finishing up presentations of their projects at the annual Honors College Capstone Showcase on April 12, 2019.

As I walked from room to room, the Honors College was filled with seniors meeting on panels, making TED-style talks and lightning pitches, showing off their protocols and models, or films and performances on video monitors, while dozens of others fielded questions from visitors about their research posters. It was an exciting moment, and a rite of passage. For her Public Health project, Priyanka Patel told me,

"Presenting at the Capstone Showcase is an experience that puts into perspective how much I actually accomplished during my time at Rutgers.”

Built around supporting a high-level, interdisciplinary scholarly community, the Honors College maintains a requirement for all members to complete and present a Capstone. For the students, this means dedicating at least six credits in their senior year to an original, sustained, and scholarly piece of work. The Capstone Showcase was giving them the opportunity to then shine in front of the peers they came up with, and their friends and supporters across the university.

From that morning until afternoon, the Honors College lounges and seminar rooms were alive with intellectual energy, quick thinking, and carefully crafted diagrams, slides, and designs. It was great to watch friends who hadn’t seen each other since their first or second years reuniting to chat about their lives, and their work in labs and field-stations, or in local organizations doing community or arts development. Our entire Honors College team fanned out, asking questions, making comments, and providing feedback. My faculty colleagues sat down to ask students about their research methodologies, and proud parents and family members cheered, took photos and selfies, and marveled at the incredible array of talent. 

Traveling around the rooms, we could see visitors and participants alike raising questions and being immersed in a stunning multi-disciplinary exposure to almost any field of knowledge they could imagine, all presented by the scholars. Current students soaked up everything possible.“I learned how and what I can do for my own Capstone,”commented at least a half-dozen sophomores and juniors to me. “I didn’t really get it before, but now I do.”

From aneuploidy and whole exome  sequencing, to intersectionality in public health and medieval iconography, from language acquisition and wastewater management, to parallel analyses of mathematics and dance, or exciting developments in pediatric literacy, rocket thrust engines, social policy and British literature, or global power transition theory, the presenters demonstrated their expertise by showing off what years of study and focus lead to. While doing so, they expressed the confidence and professional skills built around the HC academic curriculum, professional development, advising guidance, and student leadership opportunities. “I never thought I’d be lecturing to my own professor,” said one student in environmental science. “I guess I’m becoming an expert on this subject,” commented another in classical literature. Environmental Science student Daniel Peltyszyn explained, 

"Speaking to an audience interested in my work was a fitting culmination to three years of research experience and a necessary step in my professional development."

On the panels, or at the catered lunch, the student researchers had lively give-and-take with their professors and friends about research methodologies and sources of evidence, with detailed follow-ups on the implications of antitubercular inhibitors, green infrastructure, Afro-Cuban women’s lives, immigration policy, or the development of soil seed banks. “I was very impressed,” enthusiastically remarked one of my colleagues. Another commented, obviously proud, “this is what it’s all about.” 

At the popular TED-style talks and Lightning Pitches, polished talks and quick ideas flew around the room about start-up technologies, diabetes awareness, and the role of Greek Letter Organizations in social and professional mobility. Animated films about emotional and psychological stress, and documents about orangutan fieldwork in Indonesia, or community kitchens in New Brunswick pulled together viewers with questions and shared impressions. How much of the stories were personal? Why don’t we hear more about these things? Will the films raise awareness about important issues, and help us make change? Andrea Pfaff summarized her Digital Filmmaking experience, “Because so much of my project had been done in the confines of private editing and critique rooms, entering a more public setting with a final product I was proud to showcase was a gratifying conclusion."

For all of us, it was a day to remember, and one toward which the students had worked hard since they first arrived at RU. The Capstone was always intended to be a “culminating academic experience;” not just another class or paper, but the expression of a full education, distilled into a year of investigation, imagination, and commitment. Or, as we say in the HC: Curiosity, Knowledge, Purpose. Some student presentations provided personal as well as scholarly insights.

"Over time we become less of the person we were, and more the person others wanted, or needed, us to be. I’m grateful to the Honors College for allowing me to share these ideas." ~ Katy Greenberg from Art History reflecting on her research tracking representations of St. Clare of Assisi across centuries.

As a community, we congratulate these seniors, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s graduating class and what they will bring to their own Capstone Showcase. 

To see more photos from the 1st Capstone Showcase, please visit the Facebook Photo Gallery.