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Juniors to start comprehensives

Fallon Hogerty | Friday, November 10, 2006

Simply mention the phrase “senior comprehensive” to any Saint Mary’s upperclassman and, more often than not, a look of terror crosses her face. Next semester, nearly all Saint Mary’s juniors will begin the long process of creating their senior comprehensives, which, depending on the major, take roughly two semesters to complete. “I’m so nervous,” junior Kristen Forney said. “I’ve heard so many stories from girls that it takes up a lot of time and it is a ton of extra work. “I’ve never done a research project like this before. Everyone dreads it.” The senior comprehensive has been a required part of the Saint Mary’s curriculum since the 1936-37 school year, when it was first mentioned in the College’s annual academic bulletin. It was strictly regulated at the time. The senior comprehensive “is a test of not less than six hours,” according to the bulletin. “It may be written or oral or both depending upon the character of the major.”Since then, it has gradually evolved into different types of projects, research papers and exams. The College allows each major to tailor her comprehensive to fit her program. “There are two metaphors that quite often are used for a senior project: a capstone and a bridge,” communication studies professor John Pauley said. “Capstone is building on top of everything we’ve learned to far. Some programs are preparing students for a particular career, such as nursing, education, etc.”[The Communication Studies] program looks at the senior project as a capstone experience. It builds on communication theory, understanding skills acquired through the program.”Pauley recommends that the comprehensive paper be between 20 and 30 pages, but it is not unusual to receive papers that are 60 to 70 pages or even upwards of 80 pages long. “A paper is never merely a matter of quantity, always a matter of quality,” he said. “Could someone write a five page comp? I suppose, if they were the greatest, densest writer out there.” Professor Mary Ann Merryman, chair of the Department of Business Administration and Economics, will spend the first week in January evaluating the Business Administration majors’ comprehensives. She said it is definitely a capstone project. “Business students create and present a case based on real companies like Kellogg’s or Hershey’s,” she said. “These case studies demonstrate a student’s competency on ethics, analytical and technical skills, problem solving and, quite honestly, good presentation skills. “These are all real-life skills. We want students to show what they’ve learned.”Saint Mary’s views the senior comprehensive as a rewarding and educational experience. It supports the goal for an integrating liberal arts education, allowing students to achieve a higher level of learning, said Susan Vanek, the associate dean for Advising and director of First Year Studies.”When taking major courses, there is no time to step back and put it all together,” Vanek said. “The senior comprehensive gives a student the chance to do this. Students, when they finish, see their project as rewarding and meaningful.”