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Environmental Studies

The ENVS Capstone

Each ENVS major completes an original capstone project during their senior year. An ENVS capstone is far more than a typical term paper or course project! Our majors cultivate high-quality interdisciplinary environmental research skills, and document these skills in a manner they publicly share. The capstone draws upon their entire experience in environmental studies at Lewis & Clark College, and results in an outcome that supports their next academic and professional steps following graduation.

The ENVS capstone draws the student’s area of interest as initially defined in ENVS 220 (Environmental Analysis), and is directly guided via ENVS 350 (Environmental Theory) and 400 (Senior Seminar). The typical sequence of ENVS 220, 350, and 400 is outlined on the ENVS major page.

Effective 2020, ENVS capstone outcomes are documented on the ENVS 400 digital scholarship site, while capstones from 2012-2018 are available in archived format, along with other archived ENVS digital scholarship resources. Below is some additional information on the capstone process and outcome.

  • The ENVS capstone follows key approaches our students cultivate in environmental studies:
    • Situated research, in which they address a general environmental topic via a focused geographical context. The situated approach is also known as the hourglass, as the capstone research process starts and ends in a broad manner, with situated analysis in the middle. This situated approach offers our students a grounded basis to say something big about an environmental issue!  
    • Asking questions. Our students have learned in their ENVS courses that genuine environmental progress comes from asking better questions. This lesson applies directly to their capstone via framing and focus questions: the broad questions that motivate their capstone, and the specific questions they address via situated research.
    • Data, methods, theories, and frameworks. A capstone spans the full range of environmental analysis, building on broad conceptual foundations (theories and frameworks) and applying them to careful empirical research (data and methods). Doing high-quality conceptual and empirical analysis distinguishes their capstones relative to research that attends only to one or the other.
  • These key approaches are integrated into three core ENVS courses directly pertaining to the capstone:
    • ENVS 220. This course, typically taken during the second year, gives students an opportunity to learn these key approaches—in particular, the data and methods of situated research—and to propose an initial area of interest: a broad, interdisciplinary topic for which they are passionate and wish to develop some depth and expertise. By their senior year, our students will have refined their area of interest via related courses and projects, and regular conversations with their ENVS major advisor.
    • ENVS 350. Typically taken fall of the senior year, ENVS 350 addresses theories and frameworks, both broadly and with respect to the student’s area of interest and upcoming capstone. Here is where they build a foundation for their capstone by considering the framing questions that motivate it, exploring the concepts that relate to these framing questions, and eventually applying this top-of-the-hourglass framework toward the data and methods they’ll use in their situated analysis.
    • ENVS 400. In spring of the senior year our students take ENVS 400, the course in which they finalize their capstone. By this point they are primarily focusing on the middle of their situated hourglass: the data and methods of capstone research, all derived from the research (focus) questions they are asking. They’ll eventually reach the bottom of your hourglass journey, deriving larger implications from their capstone research, and document their entire project in a thesis or alternative outcome (below).
  • Here are some choices our students make as to the capstone:
    • Thesis vs. alternative outcome. All ENVS students will do a situated research project for their capstone as summarized above, but this research can result in either a thesis—an extended scholarly manuscript—or a non-thesis outcome, such as a curriculum, a technical report, or even a creative work such as a podcast! Our students’ choice of an outcome is often guided by their post-graduation plans, and what would best support their professional and/or academic trajectory.
    • Honors vs. regular capstone. Students with a minimum 3.5 GPA in the ENVS major may consider submitting their capstone for honors consideration. Students pursuing honors are urged to accelerate their timetable for producing a thesis outcome, as their thesis draft—typically submitted prior to spring break—will be the basis for an ENVS faculty committee decision as to honors candidacy. Those offered this opportunity will then do an oral defense following spring break, and the faculty committee will award honors—a rare and distinguished award, announced annually at Lewis & Clark College’s honors convocation—based on their draft, defense, and any recommended final revisions. 

If you have questions about the ENVS capstone process, please contact your ENVS core course instructor or the ENVS Program.