Capstone projects help sum up Vassar careers

Many Vassar seniors are focusing on completing capstone projects for their majors. Connor Martini is one such senior and he is writing about the relationship between religion and Battlestar Galactica. Photo by: Cassady Bergevin.
Many Vassar seniors are focusing on completing capstone projects for their majors. Connor Martini is one such senior and he is writing about the relationship between religion and Battlestar Galactica. Photo by: Cassady Bergevin.
Many Vassar seniors are focusing on completing capstone projects for their majors. Connor Martini is one such senior and he is writing about the relationship between religion and Battlestar Galactica. Photo by: Cassady Bergevin.

Every year there is a new batch of seniors striving to make thesis meetings, slogging through their drama projects and struggling through rehearsals, among a whole variety of other capstone projects, works that should wrap up a student’s four years at Vassar.

The value of capstone projects has been a part of ongoing discussion at Vassar among the student body and administration, and one of the topics of biggest concern is whether a capstone requirement should be instituted.

“There is ongoing discussion within the faculty, initiated last year by Dean of the Faculty Jon Chenette, regarding the possibility of a capstone requirement. Much of the work is currently being conducted by a subcommittee of the Committee on Curricular Policies,” wrote Acting Dean of Faculty Steve Rock in an emailed statement.

Connor Martini ‘14 is one student who, despite having no specific requirement to do a capstone project, chose to explore a thesis topic one might not expect from a religion major—religious commentary in Battlestar Galactica. Martini, who has had a particular affection for the science fiction show since it came out in 2004, is tackling the religious and humanist topics. Martini also focuses on religious pluralism and religious fundamentalism, as well as other uncanny imagery.

In his interpretation of the show, Martini found the conflict between the monotheist Cylon robots and the polytheist humans of the Galactica universe a metaphor for religious and difference; he now uses this to analyze post-humanism and religious pluralism.

“The robots are super religious—very fundamentalist, dogmatic monotheists, while the humans are polytheists in a very state-sponsored way,” Martini said.

He continued, “[Humans display] super chill, general agnosticism reminiscent of Western liberal religion, whereas the religion of the robots is more of a fundamentalist Christian rhetoric.”

Martini went on to talk about the not-quite ideal portrayal of religious pluralism in the popular show. He said, “It makes a very interesting argument for religious pluralism but not in as inclusive of a way as we would like to be, because the human viewers would probably like atheists to be involved in a model promised land.”

While writing a thesis about a television show might seem like a fun choice for a capstone, Martini said it has taken up a significant portion of his time. For one, Martini bemoaned the fact that he cannot watch all the other shows he wants to keep up with.

Theses in the Religion Department are comprised of two parts: a shorter assignment in the fall and a longer written project during the spring semester. Martini said he will have to wait until next year and see how he manages his work when the deadline approaches, but he also thinks he will be prepared for the second semester stresses.

Martini explained, “It is going to be interesting how I pull that off. We’ll see. I believe in myself. I think thats 90 percent of it of it.” He went on, “It’ll get done. I’m so stressed when it comes to school work that I end up doing my papers a week in advance any way.”

While the first thing that often comes to mind for capstone projects is a thesis, many other options are available for students depending on both their area of concentration, as well as their interests. Some students, such as Martini, might go the traditional path and write a thesis, while others might pursue options they consider to be more representative of their work. These included the senior recitals offered by the Music Department.

Although Rock asserted the potential benefits of a  capstone project for all students, he also maintained that student need a variety of project options.

“There is evidence to suggest that capstone projects are a “high-impact educational practice,” which is a fancy way of saying that they are associated with positive learning outcomes on a variety of dimensions.  These can range from the acquisition or enhancement of skills to the development of improved critical faculties to personal growth,” wrote Rock.

He also explained, “Of course, it would be foolish to pretend that all students benefit equally from such projects or that all have terrific experiences.  For this reason, it is important to imagine different kinds of capstone projects. It’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.”

One such student who benefited from the variety of options available to students for capstone projects is Stephanie Goldberg ’14, who has studied in soprano Rachel Rosales’s studio the past four years and is currently preparing for her senior recital this Saturday in Skinner Music Hall. Goldberg will finish up with her capstone project early in the year, unlike many other students.

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