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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Crossing the finish line

SAHAR FOROUZANFAR / AGGIE

UC Davis seniors finish their college experiences with capstone projects

For UC Davis’ graduating class of 2017, the time of year has come for a multitude of pressures. Along with putting the final touches on their GPAs, searching for jobs or graduate schools and living out the end of their undergraduate careers to the fullest, many graduating seniors are also faced with the responsibility of completing a senior project.

Although not all departments require students to complete a capstone project, some do require it as a part of the curriculum. The College of Engineering, for example, requires all engineering majors to complete a senior design capstone course and holds an annual design showcase for students to present their work.

“[Students] spend a lot of time working on these projects,” said Alin Wakefield, an advisor in the College of Engineering Dean’s Office and a coordinator for the Engineering Design Showcase. “This just brings them all together under one roof. I call it a really cool science fair, almost.”

SAHAR FOROUZANFAR / AGGIE

This year’s showcase, which will take place on June 8 in the Pavilion, features the posters, prototypes and programs of close to 700 students, divided among their respective departments into teams of two to 10. Past projects have included a redesigned strawberry picking cart, model aircrafts, an electric-powered wheelchair and more.

“They get a chance to take the knowledge that they’ve learned from the classroom and actually apply it,” Wakefield said. “A lot of students […] want to get their hands dirty, building something, doing something, and the senior design project is the opportunity to take three plus years of classroom work and actually turn it into something tangible.”

On the other side of the academic spectrum, the humanities departments also have similar opportunities for students to show off their undergraduate work. Both the English and Comparative Literature Departments host senior thesis programs for honors students.

“Many students […] do a lot of short little papers, but they don’t have a chance to extend their interests in a broader scope,” said Margaret Ferguson, a distinguished professor of English and director of the 2017 honors English seminar required for theses candidates. “The thesis […] let’s them propose a topic, talk to an advisor and then […] work on this project.”

John Pitre, a fourth-year comparative literature major, recently finished a 50 page research essay on how North African authors write about their own identities in the form of the novel, an originally French style of literature that was introduced to North Africa in the wake of French colonization.

“I thought it would be fun, rather naively,” Pitre said. “It really required a lot of effort on my part. You do get a thesis advisor, […] but a lot of the legwork comes from you. As an undergrad, I’d never written anything that […] long. I learned a lot.”

While Pitre and other seniors complete their capstone projects through their departments, many students find other ways to leave their final marks at UC Davis. Cynthia Chong, a fourth-year design and art studio double major, plans on presenting a culmination of art pieces at the Art Studio Senior Show, an ongoing gallery of senior art projects that will be open to the public through June.

SAHAR FOROUZANFAR / AGGIE

Although Chong’s pieces focus on painting and drawing, other students at the show will present sculptures and various other kinds of artwork with many different mediums and styles, from watercolor to oil. One of Chong’s favorite works in her collection is a striking gouache painting of a polaroid camera in which the lens depicts a full moon, while the printed photo reveals the same moon in a different phase.

“[This piece] is actually something that I imagine in my mind […], inspired from my own story,” Chong said. “We […] usually assume something is perfect or we want to be perfect for something. Usually things do not turn out perfectly, but there’s still another beauty in the same thing when you look at it in a different way.”

While Chong looks forward to presenting her work to an audience, she also faces the challenge of finding inspiration for her work and deciding how to best convey her message.

“I don’t want to just copy from a photo,” Chong said. “I want to do something more unique. Also, I want the piece [to be] related to myself. It’s […] personal artwork, so the audience will have their own [interpretations]. I’m interested to see how the audience will react to my pieces.”

Similar to Chong, Pitre and many other students working on senior projects find that a capstone venture is not an easy task. In fact, most projects are started as early as Fall Quarter and are not finished until spring. Jeanette Chiu, a fourth-year design and communication double major, president of the UC Davis Student Fashion Association (SFA) and director of the SFA Fashion Show, has been preparing for the show for nearly a year.

“My biggest challenge was definitely figuring out the timeline,” Chiu said. “[With] leading my fashion class and then […] also directing the fashion show at the same time, […] I think I had three schedules going at once.”

Whether students are casting models, changing the world of science, brandishing a paintbrush or pouring their literary analysis into writing, most seem to find that the senior capstone experience is, as Pitre called it, “an intellectual adventure.”

“I wish it were an experience more students at UC Davis could have,” Ferguson said. “It’s sort of a way of rounding out your four years. I think the people who do it really benefit from it. [It’s a] chance to stretch your wings.”
Written by: Allyson Tsuji — features@theaggie.org

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