Professor Suzzane Kern – the Capstone Head Instructor and Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences – visited Minerva classes of 2020 and 2021, in London and Berlin respectively. Her visit was primarily intended to provide Capstone related support for students in all stages of their project as they start off their fall semester.
Kern hosted a number of events in Berlin for the Class of 2021, including group Q&As, brainstorming sessions, and 1:1 Office Hours.
Students arrived with questions about the purpose, requirements, and structure of the Capstone. In response, Kern emphasized that projects should be independent and self-directed (even if students have a partnering organization or company). “Something you are willing to spend an entire year doing”, she elaborated.
The brainstorming sessions were student-discussion focused. In small groups, students reflected: What gets you in a state of flow? What are your values? What do you look for in a project? According to Emma Stiefel (M’21), Kern was hands-off, only occasionally reminding students not to overfocus on practical concerns and instead to discuss all ideas without judgment. Emma found the emphasis on the deeper values and interests behind one’s ideas useful during her more personal brainstorming sessions. “The Capstone isn’t designed or supposed to be an obstacle to you doing what you want, the rules shouldn’t stop you from doing it.” she further commented.
Kern interacted with students in more informal settings too, talking to students about her life and interests over breakfast and baklava, among other things.
The sessions welcomed students at various stages of their Capstone ideation process. Kornelija Ukolovaitėto (M’21), for instance, has more specific questions about a subset of ideas she’s committed to. “I wish I had prepared more to ask follow-ups. I could’ve utilized the 1:1s better if I’d done more research.” These reflections valuable express the range of preparedness and anxieties students experience in their Capstone journeys. As Kern remarked, “In Berlin, I talked with students at all stages of project ideation – on one end of the spectrum, many who had no sense yet about what they might do and at the other end, some students who have an idea they’ve been thinking about for months.”
Kern also interacted with students in more informal settings, talking to students about her life and interests over breakfast and baklava, among other things. Erin Paglione, another 2021 student, went to a movie night with the Professor and some other students, watching two episodes of “One Strange Rock”, a documentary series on planet Earth hosted by Will Smith. Students spent a relaxing evening, with no questions asked about the Capstone.
In London, Kern provided on-the-ground support for the Class of 2020, as they completed their ideation, prototypes, and summer internships for their Capstone ideas.
She hosted Q&A sessions, 1:1s, small group drop-ins, and workshops for backward planning (a type of planning where students start with an end goal and work backward to determine the steps to get there). The sessions aimed at filling knowledge gaps and making the most of Capstone for senior students.
On the student’s level of preparation, Kern reported, “… they were right where we would expect.” While bigger workshops focused on specific approaches to general Capstone pursuit, she explained how 1:1s or small groups were more helpful for students with specific questions about their personal projects. Students expressed their gratitude for all the patience and support provided by Kern during her time in London.
“ I see students stall out…[because] they’re thinking about their broad aims and objectives rather than identifying actionable tasks. ”
While each student took away a different lesson from the workshops, many appreciated taking the time out of their schedule. Kern reported that understanding and clearing roadblocks during Capstone related work were particularly important for seniors. Klara (M’20) reflected on her experience. She got clarity in her process during the spring semester of her third year. “[Prof Kern] did help me a lot …. when it came to defining the project, encouraging me to stretch the boundaries of what [it] could be, and keeping me accountable,” she said.
When asked to give one piece of advice for struggling students, Kern responded, “I see students stall out…[because] they’re thinking about their broad aims and objectives rather than identifying actionable tasks. At whatever phase you’re in, decide on something to do, carve out the necessary time in your schedule, remove distractions, and get down to work.” With Capstone assignments due every two weeks, only time will tell how students manage to make progress in their own time and schedule.
While the uncertainty of a proper Capstone project looms over many students, Professor Kern and the academic team have tried their best to support Minerva students through multiple efforts. They’ve clearly communicated their support extends beyond these physical workshops and are always available for further clarification and consultation, should a student deem it necessary.