April 16, 2018
On Saturday, April 7th, 2018, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology held its first annual undergraduate capstone conference. The capstone conference was a culmination of a year-long capstone course that has allowed our ten graduating fourth-year students majoring in either Anthropology or Sociology to conduct original research and present their findings to members of the department, the SHSS community and the larger community of Astana, Kazakhstan. The conference was considered to be a great success by the faculty and students of the Department who saw this as an empowering and important experience that will help our majors in developing their future plans. The conference was attended by faculty and students, both undergraduate and graduate, from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as the Dean of SHSS, Daniel Pugh, and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Loretta O'Donnell. In the future we hope to attract greater participation from community organizations in Kazakhstan and students and faculty from other universities in Astana.
The goal of the capstone course on which the conference is based is three-fold. It allows undergraduate students to consolidate what they have learned in their Anthropology and Sociology courses throughout their undergraduate careers and apply that learning through designing, conceptualizing and carrying out their own research projects as well as communicating their findings in a professional manner. It further helps them to learn to think deeply about how to apply their learning to contexts outside of the university. This is particularly evident in the work of the students pursuing the capstone track called “Community Engagement Project” which requires exploring questions that are relevant to community organizations in Kazakhstan. By conducting research and data analysis that provide solutions to those organizations so they can serve their constituents in an evidence-based manner, the students can increase their future employment opportunities and utilize their training in the Sociology and Anthropology Department in a creative and practical manner. The third goal is to allow students to learn to engage in the research enterprise in a consistent and sustainable manner and see what it is really like to be part of a research community. By going through the process of formulating research questions, collecting and analyzing the data, and presenting their findings to colleagues and community members, they learn that research is a collaborative practice which requires the ability to learn from others, recognize the limitations of one’s work, and show deep and abiding curiosity about the social world around them. This is especially valuable for the students who are pursuing the thesis track in the capstone program and will serve as a launching point for those pursuing graduate studies. Our undergraduate students are already presenting their capstone research at other undergraduate conferences in places such as South Korea and the United States. Some of them have plans to pursue publications in journals and other research presentation venues.