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Requirements for Honors Capstone Projects

The defining feature of an honors capstone is that it allows the student to make and articulate research discoveries with the help of a faculty mentor. All honors capstones must include:

All honors students create an honors capstone committee that consists of a primary faculty mentor and at least one other faculty member who must approve the final project. This second member is typically the Departmental Faculty Honors Advisor, a representative from a departmental or college honors committee, or a professor in a field related to the project’s topic. The role of the primary faculty mentor on an honors capstone is crucial: this mentor works closely with the student, helping him or her to focus and refine the project, develop a realistic timeline and work plan, understand and address research and writing challenges, and revise, polish, and present the final product. Because of the nature of this work, all primary honors capstone mentors must be full-time USU faculty members with a terminal degree or appropriate credentials in the major field (appropriate degrees or credentials may vary by field). Visiting or part-time instructors may serve as capstone committee members, provided they can see the project through to its completion. Please see The Honors Capstone Committee for more details about both faculty and student responsibilities in the honors capstone process. Briefly, students are responsible for securing their primary faculty mentor and committee member(s), completing an honors capstone proposal, submitting a detailed work plan, meeting the agreed-upon deadlines for the project, communicating frequently and clearly with all committee members, arranging for (and documenting) the public presentation of their work, and formatting the final product according to Honors Program guidelines.

Prior to enrolling in the final honors capstone course (see Course Credits/Hours of Work below), honors students typically enroll in HONR 3900, a one-credit class designed to support them in the process of beginning work on their capstone projects. The course requires students to study past honors capstone projects, define their own projects, choose their faculty mentors, and work with those mentors to complete honors capstone proposals. Students who work with a professor on an existing research project may quote and cite briefly from the professor’s research proposal in their honors capstone proposals, but they must very clearly define their own roles in such projects and distinguish both their words and their roles from those of the professor. Please follow the guidelines on the Honors Capstone Proposal form. In addition, if a student’s major or minor requires its own non-honors senior capstone experience, honors students may use that work as the starting point for an honors project that deepens and extends the regular capstone experience in the major. With the help of the faculty mentor, who may or may not be the instructor of that standard capstone course, honors students must articulate clearly and specifically in their honors capstone proposals how their honors projects will extend substantially beyond the work of the regular capstone experience in the major.

Since all honors capstones must involve research, they require students to seek knowledge and to communicate that knowledge to others. Pursuing knowledge may involve laboratory, library, field, creative, analytical, or experiential work. Communicating that knowledge may involve the construction of research posters, oral presentations, written analyses or reports, live performances and lectures, creative production and process analysis, business plans with professional analysis, and academic analyses of the research process. In some cases, the final product is primarily the public presentation of the project (a performance, show, or organized event). Students and faculty are encouraged to consider the role of writing itself in the research as they determine the appropriate amount of writing and other materials required for each project. Honors capstone projects that include material in addition to writing (experiential or field data, laboratory results, mathematical calculations, performances, photographs, art) must also include some analytical, process-oriented writing, typically at least 5,000 words, although any substantive body of work appropriate to the discipline (including, for example, professional portfolios of artistic documentation, scientific diagrams, comparative charts, mechanical plans, or mathematical work) may be acceptable, as long as the faculty mentor and committee members agree that this product will best serve the student’s goals. In honors capstones that take the form of a thesis, writing itself is the primary final product (written analyses of specific texts, library research, and/or archival work); these projects typically consist of at least 10,000 words, roughly the length of a publishable manuscript. Academic standards vary across disciplines, and faculty mentors and honors students are encouraged to discuss these expectations early in the process, as they complete an honors capstone proposal. Suggested minimum word counts typically do not include bibliography, supplementary material, or appendices, unless that material is central to project documentation. Please remember that if a student’s major or minor requires its own non-honors senior capstone experience, honors students must clearly articulate within the final product itself how their honors capstone project exceeds and builds upon the requirements of the standard major’s capstone. The final product, in whatever form(s), should be high quality work that makes both student and mentor proud. Students and faculty will need to allow plenty of time for multiple drafts, rehearsals, tests, revisions, etc. Future students and faculty will examine this work as a model, and the University Honors Program therefore will not approve capstone proposals or projects that fail to demonstrate the value and possibilities of such projects.

All capstone projects must include 1000-1500 words (approximately 2-3 double-spaced pages) of reflective writing that describes and evaluates the process of completing the written and any non-written parts of the capstone project. The reflective writing is in addition to—and different from—the final product writing required above. While process or professional analyses that are part of the final product analyze the research work of the capstone project, this brief section reflects upon the process of completing a capstone project, briefly outlining some of the project’s problems, challenges, and triumphs and offering specific advice to future students beginning their capstones. Great honors capstones do all of the following, and their reflections articulate how they did it:

  1. Create a capstone experience for the student’s undergraduate education
  2. Add substantially to the student’s overall education and/or future goals
  3. Create a positive, meaningful mentor relationship in support of the student’s education and/or future goals
  4. Deepen the student’s research experience within his or her major
  5. Require critical thinking about topics in that major
  6. Broaden the student’s experience across disciplines (sometimes in more obvious ways than others, but students should always think broadly and across disciplines about the impact of their work)
  7. Engage the student in his or her local or global community (again, this engagement might be very obvious (in a service-learning capstone) or less so (in a more traditional thesis); in either case, students should reflect upon how their capstone and/or future related work might impact the lives of others)

Honors students should register for honors capstone credit (typically 3 credit hours). They may register for HONR 4900, an existing departmental thesis or capstone course, or any approved (by committee and Honors Program Director) course in their majors. Honors recommends registering for 3 credits to ensure that students complete approximately 10 hours of work per week, including meetings, research, planning, project construction, and writing. The number of credits is negotiable, depending on a student’s schedule and needs, but the amount of work is not. Capstone projects require the same amount of time for students as an entire course, but the work is focused on the management and completion of one major project.

All honors capstone projects must be presented publicly at a conference, campus research event, public defense/discussion, performance, show, or other appropriate venue, and students must provide documentation (conference program, teacher letter, committee memo) verifying the completion of these public presentations. In some cases, the public presentation of the project (especially for performances, shows, major service projects, or organized events) will be the key final product of the capstone process. In such cases, a detailed professional portfolio of artistic or other relevant documentation might serve as the record of this crucial public presentation. In all cases, faculty mentors should help students to find the most appropriate venue for their work and document its completion. Spring graduates may participate in the Student Research Symposium on campus in April, and fall graduates may present at the smaller Fall Research Symposium. Like faculty mentors, the University Honors Program is committed to helping students arrange public presentations, but it is the student’s responsibility to seek this support and guidance. Students must submit a signed Capstone Oral Presentation Verification form with their signed final capstone project.

All honors capstone projects are now archived in the Merrill-Cazier Library’s Digital Commons, as well as in hard copy in the University Honors Program office. Students must submit a signed Electronic Capstone Approval form before graduation or request an embargo if their research is in the process of being published. The University Honors Program office must have this form on file before any capstone project can be made available on Digital Commons.


Download the full Honors Capstone Handbook here.