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The Honors Capstone: Frequently Asked Questions

Are students required to complete their thesis/capstone projects in their majors?

Designed as the culmination of the honors student’s undergraduate educational experience, the honors thesis/capstone project should focus on some area of interest in the student’s major (or sometimes minor) field. This choice allows students to develop close professional relationships with faculty in their academic disciplines. Because Honors emphasizes interdisciplinary learning, the program also allows and encourages students to pursue interdisciplinary projects, provided these projects extend disciplinary knowledge in meaningful ways.

Can a thesis/capstone project re-work a previous paper or project?

It is academically dishonest to recycle, with minor additions or changes, a paper already completed and submitted for a grade or honors contract. A student who proposes to add a different introduction or a longer conclusion, more examples, or illustrations to an existing paper is certainly not proposing anything that can be considered the capstone of an honors education; such work is therefore unacceptable. However, a thesis or capstone project that builds upon and extends a student’s past work in new and deeper ways is indeed a capstone to an undergraduate education. Students often develop capstone ideas from successful honors contracts, which students can productively use to complete some preliminary research in their areas of interest. Contracts can thus serve as a means of testing out ideas that students might want to pursue in more depth their capstone projects. Similarly, a required non-honors capstone course in the major often allows a student to complete a chapter, portion, or starting point for an honors thesis/capstone project.

What if students cannot complete all the work described in their formal thesis/capstone proposals?

As students work on their capstone projects, they will almost certainly find that the project changes and develops in unexpected ways; such changes are part of the research process and should cause no concern as long as the project continues to grow and progress. Often as students complete their research, they work with their faculty mentors and committee members to narrow or refocus the project as necessary. Similarly, if students discover that essential materials or equipment are unavailable, they should work with their mentors and committee members to modify the project appropriately. It is always acceptable for students to shift the focus of the project if they do so with the help of their mentors and with the agreement of all members of the thesis/capstone project committee. If students and committee members cannot come to an agreement about how to modify a project, the Honors Program Director can help the group to find a solution. If the project changes in fundamental ways, students may need to submit and secure approval for a new thesis/capstone proposal, at the discretion of the faculty mentor. No major project changes may be made after the second week of the student’s final term. Please note that any major change to the project must earn approval of the entire committee, as well as the Honors Program Director.

What happens if a student fails to complete the thesis/capstone project?

Students graduate with honors only if they complete their thesis/capstone projects, and the Honors Program therefore makes every effort to help students succeed. In extenuating circumstances, if students decide that they cannot complete their projects, they should 1) immediately notify the Honors Program and Director of the decision, and 2) understand that they will not earn an “A” in a designated thesis/capstone class. The Honors Program Director will consult with the faculty mentor and the Departmental Faculty Honors Advisor/committee member to determine an alternate assignment (usually a shorter paper) and grade (no higher than a “B”). If students make this decision early in the semester, they may petition to withdraw from HONR 4900 or other approved thesis/capstone course and register for an independent study in their major without penalty. Please consult with the Honors office about this possibility.

Download the full Honors Thesis/Capstone Handbook Here