A capstone experience is required for all Cornell Environmental Studies (ENV) majors who declared their major during or after the 2010-11 academic year. Students are allowed the flexibility to create an ENV concentration of their own design using courses from any department or combination of departments, and thus the capstone experience each ENV major chooses to pursue should complement their concentration.

What counts as a capstone?

The ENV capstone requirement may be satisfied through any of a wide range of options. For example, if a student created an ENV concentration in Environmental Resource Management, they could choose (as just two examples among many) to work with (1) Andy McCollum in order to conduct independent research on sea turtle population dynamics as a BIO 485; (2) Craig Allin to investigate forestry operations on the margins of public lands as an independent study, POL 390. If a student’s interests lie outside the areas of expertise of Cornell faculty, that student could choose to participate in an off-campus internship, such as investigating pesticide contamination in Linn County wells with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Alternatively, if the student does not wish to conduct independent research, they could choose to investigate an issue using published sources, as long as it remains under the direction of a member of the ENV faculty and as long as it involves at least one block of intense, focused work.

When should the capstone experience be undertaken?

As this is a capstone experience, ENV majors may conduct this work only after having completed nine of the courses required for the major. However, the ENV committee will consider petitions from students who wish to complete their capstone earlier in their academic careers.

What is required for the capstone?

Requirements for individual capstone experiences are determined largely by the student’s capstone committee, however by the end of the capstone, the student will submit a written report to the ESPC and defend his or her work in front of the capstone committee. Individual departments, advisors, or capstone committees may decide to require that the work also be presented publicly, such as at the Cornell College Student Symposium or another discipline-specific meeting.

Getting started

Start early! No matter which option they choose, students must assemble a committee of three faculty to oversee their capstone experience. In order to ensure consistency in capstone style and rigor, at least two of the three faculty should be regular, contributing members of the ENV committee (see ENV website for a list of these faculty) or should teach courses required for the ENV major. A capstone committee may be composed of more than three members, but at least three should be full-time Cornell faculty. The student will submit a capstone proposal (click here for the ENV capstone proposal template) to his or her committee that will include:

  1. A formal title for the student’s area of concentration (e.g., Environmental Law).
  2. A  list of the capstone advisor and committee members.
  3. A  list of the courses used to define the ENV concentration and a thoughtful explanation of how the concentration is integrated with the proposed capstone.
  4. A detailed description of the capstone experience, including particular goals, methods, anticipated pitfalls, and projected outcomes.
  5. The length, composition, and construction of the final report.
  6. Nature and timing of required public presentation of capstone project; students are strongly encouraged (and may be required by their capstone committee) to conduct these presentations at the annual Cornell College Student Research Symposium in April.

After deeming the proposal to be acceptable, the capstone project advisor will forward the proposal on to the capstone committee for final approval (via a simple majority vote) at least one month prior to the start of the capstone.  A copy of the proposal will also be sent to all members of the ENV committee.

Does the capstone have to be taken for academic credit?

Students are not required to enroll in a for-credit class or internship for their capstone.

How does the registrar know the capstone has been successfully completed?

The ENV chair (Rhawn Denniston, Department of Geology) will be responsible for maintaining a list of each ENV major’s class/internship/fellowship/experience that has been accepted by a capstone committee as satisfying the capstone requirement. The ENV chair will likewise notify the registrar on behalf of each ENV major when their capstone requirement has been satisfied.

Funding off-campus capstone experiences

Given that capstone experiences may involve work performed off campus, ENV majors are encouraged to work with their capstone supervisor, the ENV committee, and the College to obtain adequate funding where appropriate. Grants from the Cargill Foundation and the Cornell Class of 1958 are available; the Cornell Fellows Program also is a potential source of support. See Prof. Rhawn Denniston with requests for Cargill Foundation and Class of 1958 support.