By Dr. Angela Gibson
Faculty Member, School of Arts and Humanities at APU.
Transitions come in many forms, some are personal, some are professional, and others are academic in nature. Just as there is a transition when you first attend college–perhaps an orientation or an academic skills foundation course–there is also a transition before graduation often in the form of a senior seminar or capstone course.
At American Public University System, encompassing American Military University and American Public University, students in the General Studies Bachelors of Arts program encapsulate learning and experiences in the COLL498: Senior Seminar in General Studies course. Students in senior-standing take this three-credit class at the end of their program of study.
The senior seminar helps students to transition from where they are in their academic careers to where they plan to go next in life. Students get the chance to reflect back, analyze, and evaluate their completed courses in the general studies program.
As the program of study is one of an interdisciplinary approach, students combine prior coursework learning with experiences from outside the classroom and thread knowledge, both practical and theoretical, into a final course product. Synthesizing knowledge from a holistic approach provides the opportunity to develop an academic research or other scholarly activity that results in a demonstration of classwork and cross-disciplinary learning. Students use critical thinking, research skills, flexibility, analytical skills, writing, communication, and presentation skills to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities sought by employers.
In addition to the transition of the student from single content focus to multi-topic exploration, the student transitions from undergraduate student to being prepared for an ever-changing workforce. George Crane is quoted as writing “There is no future in any job. The future lies in the man who holds the job” (Goodreads, 2015).
Students must also prepare to change jobs early and often in their professional careers. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the average length of time employed at a job is just under four and a half years (Forbes, 2012). Further research suggests job hopping, by choice or by decision of the employer, will increase as the next generation in the workforce may only stay at a place of employment for three years or less (Forbes, 2012).
With the variations and instability such transitions may cause, being flexible, agile, and adaptable through carrying a toolbox filled with a variety of skills, experiences, and knowledge is necessary. Students, who focus on the purpose of the senior seminar course and truly integrate the interdisciplinary aspect of the learning, as well as the assets produced, will be better prepared for a brave new world.
In the transition of applying to graduate school or applying for employment, students need to set themselves apart. Creation and development of a senior seminar project offers the admissions board or job search committee a demonstration of knowledge as well as abilities. Educause shares that e-Portfolios are “a valuable learning and assessment tool” providing “a digitized collection of artifacts” and can support “student advisement and career preparation, student or alumni credential documentation” (2005). As part of the scaffolded learning and assessment framework of the senior seminar course, AMU and APU students create an e-Portfolio and add to the digital resource through development of intellectual biographies, a list of transferable skills, an interdisciplinary project, an oral presentation, a reflection essay, and examples of cover letters and resumes or CVs. Compiling assets in one place allows the student to continue to work on and modify items, add to the collection, and share out in full or individually as needed.
Another transition that is potentially unexpected for students is moving beyond the professor-student relationship. Even those students who may be employed in a civilian or military position during college may not realize the power of having a mentor. In the senior seminar course students are required to select a mentor, a subject matter expert, from the APUS Career Network, from their professional field, or from a set of former professors or those teaching at other institutions.
Early in the class and project development, students establish a mentor-mentee relationship. Such a relationship puts responsibility on the student to take advantage of the learning that can happen from such a connection. Students are guided by the professor, as well as through readings and resources, to be open to establishing a rapport and to be proactive in mentoring relationships (National Postdoctoral Association, 2015).
Moving beyond the idea of a last class selected randomly or finishing the checklist on a program plan is the important concept of preparing the student for transitions in their academic journey, in their personal life, and in their professional field. The senior seminar course, and any well-purposed and well-developed capstone class, develops the student in a multi-faceted, well-rounded, interdisciplinary approach. A curriculum that considers the future success of the student truly is moving beyond the grade.
About the Author
Dr. Gibson has been published in various peer reviewed journals such as the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Community College of Research and Practice, and Issues in Educational Research. She is active in regional and national education associations performing in roles as reviewer, chair, discussant, and mentor. Additionally, she serves as a reviewer for education journals. Dr. Gibson received a B.A. in International Relations from George Mason University, a Masters of Arts in Human Performance Systems, with a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, from Marymount University, and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with concentrations in Adult Education, Higher Education, and Community College Education, from Texas A & M University — Kingsville. Additionally, Dr. Gibson volunteers as an informal STEM educator creating learning opportunities at schools and with community organizations as well as providing social media outreach for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She is a recipient of the Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan Consortium) 2014 Effective Practice Award. Follow her @AgilistaAG on Twitter.