Taking a classroom beyond the stone walls

Capstone courses gives Carolina students the kind of educational experience they could never get at a desk.

Canoeing down the banks of the Coharie River recently as part of a Capstone Course, UNC-Chapel Hill senior Daniel Barnes-Batista said, was the kind of educational experience he could never get at a desk.

Capstone courses at Carolina, which can be major-specific and also used to satisfy requirements for Bachelor’s degrees, combine skills learned in class with off-campus, hands-on application of those skills. This one, Capstone: Analysis and Solution of Environmental Problems (ENEC 698-001), was focused on learning more about the relationship between the river and the Coharie Tribe based in Sampson County, North Carolina.

“Learning and experiential learning is very important to being a college student,” said Barnes-Batista.

Students paddled the river with Coharie Tribe tour guides and took water samples at multiple locations to test for nitrogen levels and other possible pollutants.

After the river tour, the group ate lunch at the Coharie Tribal Headquarters. They then met with tribe members ready to share their stories in one-on-one interviews as another element for the course project. Each interview became part of an oral history about the tribe, by the tribe and crafted by the students.

“To tell the story of our people as we lived it is very beautiful. It’s very honest,” said Tribal Administrator Greg Jacobs. “Those young minds are brilliant. So, I hope that we have something to offer them and I know that with all the resources at their fingertips they’re going to have something to offer us.”

“Not all majors have a required Capstone experience,” said Curriculum Director for Undergraduate Curricula Nick Siedentop. He explained while many Capstone courses are designed for students completing a major, there are many other research and experiential education opportunities open to any student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree.

“If a student wants to integrate a Capstone experience into their schedule, I’d recommend contacting the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department offering the class they want to take to find out how they may be able to join the class.”

It often results in a memorable learning experience.

“You get to apply the concepts that you’ve learned: stewardship, community, involvement,” said Carolina student Harmony Bouley. “I think that Capstones are just an opportunity for the rubber to hit the road.”