SINGAPORE — Students in Yale-NUS’ class of 2017 recently submitted their capstone projects for evaluation, bringing them one step closer to the college’s inaugural graduation.
Like senior theses at Yale, capstone projects at Yale-NUS see students take on a self-directed project within their major. Administrators and faculty at the college view the project as an essential component of a liberal arts education and as a distinctive tenet of its academic program within the Singaporean higher education landscape.
“The capstone is the piece which completes the ‘arch’ through four years of scaffolding and preparation in the Common Curriculum and other major courses in their discipline,” said Yale-NUS associate dean of faculty Khoo Hoon Eng, who is responsible for overseeing the capstone project process. “While other institutions in Singapore have something similar called the Honours thesis, only a subset of the undergraduate population will work on the Honours thesis. Thus, Yale-NUS is unique in requiring all our students to undertake a capstone project.”
According to Khoo, requiring all Yale-NUS students to work on a capstone project was one of the first decisions made during the process of designing the college’s curriculum. She added that the faculty members involved in the process took into consideration some of the discussions about Yale’s senior requirement, calling it a “cross-fertilization” between the Yale College and Yale-NUS curricula.
Many Yale seniors also undertake a similar project, but the requirements are not as standardized as those for Yale-NUS students. Whereas each student at Yale-NUS must take a two-semester capstone project sequence beginning in the fall of their senior year, Yale students majoring in fields including political science and history can choose to complete their senior essays over one term instead of two. For economics majors at Yale, the essay is optional.
Yale-NUS Humanities Director Rajeev Patke said the capstone projects requirement ensures that each Yale-NUS student receives a well-rounded education, likening the difference between regular courses and the capstone to “the difference between middle distance running and short sprints.”
“A short sprint requires quick bursts of energy and certain kinds of explosive muscle actions, but a middle-distance jog requires much better oxygenation and a much better rhythm to the body,” Patke said. “Different tasks activate different muscles in us. That’s where the capstone complements the course survey method — without it, one’s education would be imbalanced.”
Patke, who has been a member of the Yale-NUS faculty since 2012, stressed that he was sharing his personal views on capstone projects, and not the official college policy.
Citing a two semester-long survey class at Yale-NUS whose syllabus spans thousands of years, Patke said the vast range of information covered in required courses can potentially make the undergraduate collegiate experience “a lot like a butterfly skipping from flower to flower.” He added that he hopes the capstone project provides students with the unique benefits accompanied by delving deep into a topic.
Khoo noted that the range of topics covered in the college’s first set of submitted capstone projects demonstrates the breadth and depth of the educational experience offered at Yale-NUS. Projects submitted this year included a work of creative nonfiction reflecting on a student’s experiences volunteering and traveling in Vietnam, as well as a localized, multiplayer version of the augmented reality game Pokemon GO that allows students to band together to invade or fight invasions on a simulated version of their campus. Still other projects also looked into topics in Singaporean society, including interethnic marriages and the provision of rest days for migrant domestic workers.
For Patke, who has currently agreed to supervise two capstone projects next year, the vocational relevance of the training the capstone provides is not its most important value. This is emblematic of the spirit of a liberal arts education, where learning professional skills is not the primary focus, he added.
“It is not about whether we make a better dentist or a better banker by sending the would-be banker or would-be dentists to a liberal arts college,” he said. “I would say that whether that person went to a liberal arts college or not will determine and symptomatize the degree she was exposed to an awareness which she may or not choose to activate — but which is vital anywhere.”
Yale-NUS will hosts its inaugural graduation ceremony on May 29.