Ask any Menaul School senior about Capstone, and the first words out of their mouth will be that it’s “stressful,” “frustrating,” “so hard to find a mentor.” Often their frustration, it turns out, is with themselves, as they learn how to manage a large project with many moving pieces.

In a typical Capstone binder, you will find the following:

  • Letter of introduction
  • Resume
  • Personality reflections
  • Formal proposal
  • Research
  • Memoranda
  • Mentor log
  • Thank you note to a mentor
  • Weekly reflections
  • Final written reflection

The presentation? Intense! Seniors present their project to a panel of teachers and experts for a Q & A and then evaluation. The work starts in their junior year, with many adjustments along the way. Sometimes mentor relationships don’t work out. Students have the real-world experience of people just not getting back to them. Students change their product when they discover a better idea, months after they have been trying to make something work that, well, just wasn’t.

In these three Capstone projects, look for insights into what students learned about themselves, about the world, or their chosen topic. Look for how each student intentionally finds a way in which they can give back to the world. Enjoy!

Madison — Victim’s Advocacy for Sexual Assault Victims

Madi has always been interested in women’s rights and empowerment. She considers herself as “having a heart for people and their disadvantages.” Madi decided to focus on sexual assault victim’s rights as she read more and more statistics that convinced her this is an urgent issue.

She wanted to create a product that was impactful to her peers, educating and possibly empowering them to help others. Perhaps it would even help someone in her campus community who had experienced sexual assault? The “unseen trauma,” as sexual assault is described, troubled her, and she wanted to make a difference.

She wrote a compelling proposal that was well-received. But the more she thought about it, she wanted to create an interactive product. In addition, she realized that she couldn’t make her first idea happen the way she intended because of confidentiality issues.

In partnership with her mentor at the UNM Women’s Resource Center, an expert in community workshops, she developed an interactive workshop conducted via Zoom. The product was informative, aimed at helping people understand what sexual assault is and how to support people who have suffered trauma. Twenty-two students participated, though we know that in some cases, multiple people were participating from one screen, so likely her attendance was even higher.

Though she intends to become a lawyer, she is already thinking about using her community-organizing spirit. She would like to help sexual assault victims in her future role as a lawyer and intends to stay in touch with the UNM Women’s Resource Center.

Madison’s advice to future seniors:

Time management is key. Choose a topic that inspires you to learn more. No matter how hard or stressful the day feels, know that in the end, you are making a difference in your community and that feeling is the best ever!

Miguel — Blacksmithing and Knifemaking

Miguel, an International Boarding student from Colombia, knows that he is passionate about learning new things. He wanted to try his hand at forging. He sees blacksmithing as a dying art, and his passion was to honor and revive the practice with his Capstone. In order to make his product, a forged knife, he first learned everything he could about types of metal, the history, and uses of a variety of knives and blades, as well as the process of forging.

When his original mentor didn’t work out (not surprisingly, the pandemic added extra challenges), he found new mentors in Menaul staff, Julio and David, both with expertise in forging, hunting, and related skills.

Hours and hours of YouTube videos and consultation with his mentors led to a unique knife design. Miguel decided to combine a Bowie blade with a Persian shape after carefully considering the purpose of the knife. In his presentation, Miguel responded to questions about metal types and the history of blacksmithing with ease due to a thorough study of the topics. He experienced many hours of forging a blade, only to repeatedly split handles and waste wood.

In his reflection, he describes hours when the work went smoothly. He felt the joy of hitting and shaping the metal, and all went well. More often, though, it was back to the drawing board as he persevered and toiled over his work. A deeply reflective student (part of his personality type, he learned), Miguel says that he knew the work suffered when he had poor time management. He could see himself shortcutting the process. With an unforgiving material such as forged metal, this didn’t always turn out so well.

Overall, he created an attractive, functional knife and gained the pride of learning an entirely new skill that he wants to use in the future as a hobby. He was aware that his effort was that of a beginner, yet he was determined to create a unique product, which is what he accomplished!

Miguel’s advice to future seniors:

If I were to give some advice to future seniors, it is to not be scared of new things, to really use Capstone as a project to truly learn new skills and generate new interests. And to learn from other seniors who will possibly lead you to new interests.

Natalie — Homicide Detective Work

Natalie’s introduction to her project says a lot:

I am Natalie H., and I have had the honor of attending Menaul School for the past six years. I am glad to have had the opportunity to embark on a personal journey through Capstone outside of the typical school setting. This year has provided me with many wonderful experiences, and I am happy to be able to sit here and gather them in a notebook to present as a memory and artifact of my hard work. Part of my learning process this year has been self-awareness.

I have become very conscious of my actions and have been working on improving myself in any way I can. My ultimate goal is to be able to work coherently with others in a way that makes me happy and not just for the sake of doing it. In my future, I hope to achieve this and help as many people as possible.

A short-term goal of Natalie’s was to understand the reality of police work beyond what is shown in the media. Based on detailed research into the history of detective work, as well as interaction with a detective from the Albuquerque Police Department, Natalie discovered that trust and the relationship between police and people sharing information with them are of the utmost importance.

To quote Natalie: “There is a reason why being a detective is so stressful. Since it can be difficult for people to cooperate, the police have to do more work that could have been accessed had there been a trusting relationship.” She believes learning how to build a trusting relationship between police and civilian is very important, equal to the advance in technology that allows them to do their jobs well.

Like many seniors, Natalie had to adjust her product when she realized she couldn’t film a documentary case study as she had hoped because of confidentiality concerns. Instead, she created a film of an interview about detective work. She needed more than one mentor since she also needed to learn how to make a film.

In the thank you note to one of her mentors, she wrote:

Thank you for your assistance throughout this journey in the last few months. Thank you for teaching me that it is ok for my ideas to continuously evolve and guiding me in whichever way I wanted to go. Thank you for checking in when I lacked communication and showing me the ropes to making an introductory film like this one.

Though the academic portion of her study of homicide detective work was impressive, equally important is to recognize the depth of reflection she achieved when looking back at the experience. In one particularly expressive reflection, she wrote that it was a tough week. She had spilled water on her computer, and though she knew it was silly, it really threw her off her game.

In Natalie’s words, “I learned that I can formulate better relationships with people when vulnerable. I feel like this didn’t really have anything to do with my capstone but is relevant to my life regardless.”

Natalie is exploring a future as a Criminal Investigator/Special Agent or as a registered nurse or emergency room nurse — all of which fit her personality to a “T.”

Menaul School Capstone projects are as individual as each of our students. These exemplary seniors are will soon be attending a university where they will arrive confidently equipped with self-knowledge, a sense of purpose, project management, not to mention an understanding of the impact they can have on the world.

Kudos, Class of 2021!


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    Diane Hollendonner/First Presbyterian Church Jacksonville IL on April 29, 2021

    Love the idea of a Capstone experience. The emphasis on personal reflection, research, and learning new skills leads to a learning experience that will stay with a student forever. Quite as important as regular “book learning.”

    These examples were very inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

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