Introduction to Capstones

The Honors Senior Capstone is the culmination of undergraduate Honors work and is usually completed in the senior year. The Capstone allows students to work closely with a professor - a Capstone advisor - to create a scholarly or creative project that builds on a student’s knowledge and interest in a field of study.

Capstone projects may include, but are not limited to, conducting a major research project, writing a novel, preparing a recital or performance, developing a Web site, curating an exhibit or directing a theater production under faculty supervision.

To view abstracts of Capstone projects, select the year below and click the download button. The actual Capstone projects are available in the American University Library.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is there funding available from the Honors Program for students pursuing their Capstone?
  2. Where can I find examples of previous Capstone projects?
  3. How does the Capstone fit into the University Honors requirements?
  4. If I want to graduate with University Honors in my major, are their special requirements for my Capstone?
  5. If I want to graduate with General University Honors, are the requirements for my Capstone?
  6. How does one begin the Capstone process?
  7. What forms must I complete for the Capstone?
  8. How do I register for my Capstone?
  9. More Capstone FAQs (PDF)


  1. Is there funding available to assist students with expenses related to their Capstone projects?
    Yes! The University Honors Program awards grants on a competetive basis to students that covers out-of-pocket expenses related to research and other creative work leading to the completion of their Honors Capstone. Consideration is given to the substance and merit of the Capstone project and how the grant would enhance it. Grant funding has covered a range of requests, including the costs of document copying, laboratory supplies, essential transportation and specialized computer software or other technology needs (see Capstone Grant Application).
  2. Where can I find examples of previous Capstone projects?
    Capstone projects for the most recent class of Honors graduates are available for review in the University Honors center. Honors Capstone projects are also available in the University Archives, in Bender Library, third floor, as a permanent part of the University's academic resources.
  3. How does the Capstone fit into University Honors Program requirements?
    All Honors students must complete an Honors Capstone. The Capstone credits count toward the 12 upper-level Honors credits required by the program. Students may opt to graduate with University Honors in the major or general University Honors, based in part on how they fulfill their Capstone requirement.
  4. If I want to graduate with University Honors in my major, what are the requirements for my Capstone?
    If you plan to graduate with University Honors in a given major, there are specific credit, course and Capstone requirements within this major. Depending on the department, you may be required to complete a 3- or 6-credit Capstone, participate in a designated senior seminar, independent study, senior-level Honors course or a combination of requirements (see Requirements by Major).
  5. If I want to graduate with general University Honors, what are the requirements for my Capstone?
    To receive the general University Honors designation, students must complete a Capstone in any approved area of study with an AU faculty member.  Capstones for general University Honors may range from 3 to 6 credit hours.
  6. How does one begin the Capstone process?
    1. Familiarize yourself with the Capstone requirements. You can review Capstone requirements online, but you are strongly encouraged to speak with an Honors counselor or other Honors staff member in the University Honors Center in Hurst 206. You may make an appointment or you may be seen on a drop-in basis, as staff are available.  During the advising session, you will be given information to help you decide whether graduating with University Honors in the major or general University Honors is a better option for you. An Honors counselor or other staff member can also explain the options for registering for the Capstone.
    2. Choose a professor to be your Capstone advisor and schedule an appointment with him/her.  Capstone advisors work closely with students during the Capstone process and contribute much to students’ Capstone experience and outcome.  So, students about to begin work on a Capstone should carefully consider and select a Capstone advisor interested, available and suited to guide their Capstone work.   Before meeting with the professor who will serve as your Capstone advisor, spend some time thinking about your proposed Capstone project and how you can approach your topic. Prepare a timeframe for completing the project. Capstone advisors may be any AU faculty member based in Washington, D.C., including adjunct faculty.
  7. Is there any paperwork necessary for the Capstone?
    All students working on the Capstone must complete the Honors Capstone form (see Forms), which must be signed by the Capstone advisor and the Department Honors Coordinator. With these signatures, the Capstone form should then be submitted to the University Honors Center for review and signature by the University Honors Program Director.  Students should assume their Capstone projects will be approved by Honors and begin working on them.

    Note: The Honors Capstone form is for internal use by the University Honors Program and does NOT enroll you for your Capstone course.  Please see the section below on how to register for your Capstone and what, if any, official registration paperwork may be required.
  8. How do I register for my Capstone?
    Depending on your Capstone requirements, you have the option of registering for your Capstone in one of the following ways.
    1. Register online for an upper level (300- or above) course. Follow your department guidelines as to which upper-level class you will need to register for if you are graduating with University Honors in your major. Or, register for any upper-level course if you are opting to graduate with general University Honors.
    2. Register for an independent study.  Students may register for an independent study, HNRS 490, the Honors independent study course if they are graduating with general University Honors, or  they may register for their department's independent study ( for example, COMM 490) if they are graduating with University Honors in a particular major.

      Note: It is not possible to register for an independent study online. You register for an independent study only by completing the official Office of the Registrar’s Independent Study Form. You may find this form in the Office of the Registrar. Copies of the form are also available  in the University Honors Center, Hurst 206, and on the Honors website (see Forms). Be sure to indicate on this official form how many credit hours the independent study will be. Independent study credit hours can range from 1 to 6 credits. If the independent study course is the vehicle for completing the Capstone, it should be at least 3 credit hours..

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Capstone Research Grants

The University Honors Program has designated funds for grants to students for research and other projects leading toward the completion of their Honors Capstone. Awards will be determined on the basis of the Capstone project’s merit and feasibility, in addition to the impact of the grant on the completion of the Capstone. No award will exceed $500. Applications will be accepted only for those students registering for all or part of their Capstone in present semester. You can find the downloadable Capstone Research Grant application form in the (link: Current Students-Forms) section of this Web site.

American University’s Provost’s office offers research grants to all undergraduate AU students. For more information, please visit the (link:Provost's office website).

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Capstone Research Conference

The University Honors Program holds its annual Capstone Research Conference each spring to celebrate the academic excellence of its graduating seniors by showcasing a select group of students and their Capstone projects.

Interested Honors seniors may apply in March to present their research at the conference. In general, 20 students are selected from the various schools and departments to present their Capstones during a 10-minute oral presentation. Another 20 students are selected to present their Capstones during the midday poster presentation period.

All students presenting at the Honors Capstone Research Conference – whether in the oral presentation or poster session – are eligible for the Capstone Research Conference Awards. A panel of judges at the conference selects six students to receive the Honors Capstone Research Conference Award and six students to receive Honorable Mentions.

2010 Honors Capstone Research Conference

Congratulations to this year's Capstone Conference Award winners and Honorable Mentions recipients.

The 2010 Capstone Research Conference Award recipients are:

  • Aaron Barnard-Luce (SPA: Pol. Sci.) "Opting in or Staying Out: Comparative Institutionalization of Regime Opposition Groups and Its Effects on Mobilization Strategies"
    Advisor: Prof. Todd Eisenstadt
  • Sarah Brown (CAS: Wom. & Gen. Studies & SIS: Intl. Studies) "African Women's Movements: Toward a Feminist Conception of Security, Citizenship, and Nationhood"
    Advisors: Prof. Susan Shepler and Prof. Gay Young
  • Trent Buatte (SIS: Intl. Studies) "Space, Race, and the City:
    How Marseille Survived the 2005 French Riots"
    Advisor: Prof. Cathy Schneider
  • William Flynn (CAS: Physics & Math.) "Effective 4- and Higher-Body Interactions of Neutral Bosons in Optical Lattices"
    Advisor: Prof. Philip Johnson
  • Abigail LaBella (CAS: Bio.) "Allometry and Insulin: The Insulin Receptor Pathway and Its Contribution to the Development of Allometry in Beetles"
    Advisor: Prof. David Angelini
  • Peggy Wu (SIS: Intl. Studies) "Ming Bai: Say Bye to Confusion,
    Ni Hao to Understanding"
    Advisor: Prof. Kylos Brannon

The 2010 Honorable Mentions recipients are:

  • Morgan Halvorsen (SOC: Journ.) "'Keep Going':
    An Honors Capstone Project"
    Advisors: Prof. Javier Rivera and Prof. Cara Gabriel
  • Meredith Jachowicz (CAS: Soc.) "Courage, Charm
    and Compassion: Gender Roles in Newbery Medal Winning Books"
    Advisor: Prof. Andrea Brenner
  • Ryan Korn (SPA: Pol. Sci. & CLEG) "The Democracy Game:
    A U.S. Presidential Elections Board Game and
    Applied Literature Review"
    Advisors: Prof. Benjamin Jensen and Prof. Peter Brusoe
  • Tim Moore (CAS: Hist.) "The Disneyfication of Stone Mountain:
    A Park's Response to Its Visitors"
    Advisor: Prof. Robert Griffith
  • Kate Pinkerton (CAS: Env. Studies) "Status of Seagrasses
    as Indicators of Nutrient Pollution in Guam"
    Advisor: Prof. Kiho Kim
  • Greta Wicklund (SIS: Intl. Studies) "Parenting and Politics
    from El Salvador: Empowered Belonging in the United States"
    Advisor: Prof. Linda Lubrano

Click here to view the complete 2010 Honors Capstone Research Conference schedule.

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