Book by: Lea Masiello and Tracy Skipper
Review by: Robert Detwiler
Director of Academic Advising
Over the last two decades, the undergraduate experience has undergone a renaissance of sorts. Undergraduate research and capstone experiences, not seen commonly until the 1980s, have emerged as a prevalent means of providing college seniors a means to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of their college’s core curriculum, general education, and major/minor content area. In fact, the authors cite research from the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education that more than 93% of American colleges and universities offer a senior seminar. The primary type of senior capstone was a discipline-based course, offered far more often than an interdisciplinary capstone experience.
This book was written, as the authors state, to “describe strategies for using writing to help students meet a range of academic, personal, and professional goals in the senior capstone” (p. x). The book is more practically useful for department chairs and capstone instructors, but academic advisors can benefit from this text from the viewpoint of understanding the student experience.
All advisors need to be aware of their students’ developmental journey. The authors argue that the senior capstone experience tests students in the areas of epistemological development (are there absolute answers to questions?), interpersonal development (appreciating differences in persons’ experiences and viewpoints) and intrapersonal development (who am I?). Students may be frustrated with this experience if they are not prepared to deal with these large questions in advance. Advisors can help mediate that difficulty by recommending certain courses that will expand students’ abilities in critical thinking, academic writing, and original research.
This book might be more useful for a faculty advisor than a professional staff advisor due to the fact that the faculty advisor would generally be expected to have more experience with the student in the classroom, and as such knows of their strengths and weaknesses in writing, public presentations, and aptitude with original research. The faculty advisor can then assist each student on an individual level during advising meetings with the areas that they best need to prepare for the capstone experience. Professional advisors can also help facilitate such discussions by providing their students with mentoring opportunities and referrals to faculty for research guidance. Professional advisors can also help prepare students by continually reminding their students the content and purpose of the capstone experience and how they can be best prepared for that experience. Since capstone experiences will differ wildly by discipline, such strategies need to be different by major and the type of experience that each school offers.
Masiello and Skipper have extensive experience in the areas of writing development and developing and teaching in senior capstones. Their experience and passion for this area of undergraduate curriculum definitely shows. However, it is best for the advisor reading this book review to be best reminded who this book is designed: the faculty members teaching in the senior capstone course. While advisors can tangentially benefit from reading this text, they are not going to see any direct application to advising practice from the authors.
Writing in the Senior Capstone: Theory and Practice. (2013). Book by Lea Masiello and Tracy Skipper. Review by Robert Detwiler. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. 156 pp. $30.00 (paperback). ISBN: 978-1-889271-87-3.