The Capstone Experience in Geography & Sustainability

The Capstone Experience is required of all majors in Geography and Sustainability at Western Oregon University. It serves different, but related, purposes for students and faculty.

For students, the Capstone Experience has three primary values. First, it gives structure and purpose to your program of study. Not only is are the two majors designed to provide you with the tools you need for a successful Capstone Experience, but your specific experience will be shaped by your chosen concentration within your major. Second, by asking you to reflect on your entire program of study, the Capstone Experience is an opportunity to simultaneously focus and synthesize what you have learned. Finally, it will help you to become more articulate about your major and what it has meant to you. This last value will be of particular use as you pursue opportunities for employment and graduate study.

For faculty, the Capstone Experience is a means to assess student learning from the majors as a whole, rather than on a course-by-course basis. As a common, shared experience for both faculty and students, the Capstone is also a tool for a building a community of scholars within the department.

Capstone Options

As evidenced by the three concentrations within the majors – Physical Environment, Urban & International, Culture & Politics for Geography and Business and Environment for Sustainability – the geography faculty at Western hold interests and areas of specialization that range across the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. In order to accommodate the diverse interests and disciplinary preparations of both faculty and students, the Capstone Experience is flexible and adaptable. It may be based on one or more of the following:

  • A research thesis (get details).
  • An original creative work (get details).
  • An internship (get details).
  • An applied project (get details).
  • An alternative form of advanced study. Such study may include, but is not limited to, field or comprehensive exams, specialized coursework, or compilation of a professional portfolio.

You should consult with your major advisor early in your Junior year, or equivalent, regarding the planning of your Capstone Experience. Preparations will vary depending on a student’s chosen major, concentration, skills, and future plans.


While individual student experiences will vary, depending on your major program, Capstone Experiences will share some or all of the following:

  • For Geography majors, GEOG 495 History and Philosophy of Geography is a prerequisite for enrollment in GEOG 499 Capstone Experience. GEOG 495 is designed to initiate reflection on your program of study by focusing on the intellectual development of the field and the concepts that have come to define geography as a formal academic discipline. The coursework for GEOG 495 will incorporate specific steps towards fulfilling the Capstone Experience, and may include: required consultations with your major advisor, outlining preliminary work to be completed in advance of enrolling in GEOG 499, and drafting a proposal for the Capstone Experience. GEOG 495 will normally be offered in the Spring of each academic year.
  • For both Geography and Sustainability majors, GEOG 499 Capstone Experience will typically be taken in the Fall of the year in which you intend to graduate. The content of GEOG 499 will come from the capstone plan that you will have worked out with your major advisor. While the heart of the capstone is meant to be completed while enrolled in GEOG 499, a you may also arrange to earn credit for preparations and/or revisions related to the Capstone Experience. GEOG 499 also offers the option of an RP, or Regular Progress, grade if you need more than one term to finish your work.
  • The Capstone Experience is meant to allow faculty and students to assess learning from the major as a whole. As such, all Capstone Experiences will ask you to reflect on and draw from your whole program of study. You will be asked to make connections between different courses and requirements, while demonstrating a higher level of proficiency in your chosen concentration.
  • The Capstone Experience is also part of the faculty’s assessment of program learning outcomes. Outcomes for Geography state that students in geography will be able to:
    • Explain important elements of geographic thought and practice.
    • Interpret the interrelationships between people, space, and place.
    • Analyze human-environment relations.

    For Sustainability, outcomes state that students will be able to:

    • Describe social, environmental, and economic elements of sustainable human communities.
    • Analyze the systemic nature of interrelationships among social, environmental, and economic elements of a thriving human community.
    • Apply knowledge through actions that promote a sustainable and balanced system between humans and the environment.

Every Capstone Experience will entail assessment of these outcomes, but within the context of each student’s program of study. The different concentrations within the majors accent different outcomes, and provide students with distinct vantage points on each theme. Each student’s Capstone Experience will reflect these distinctions within the field and their programs of study at Western Oregon.

The Capstone and the Academic Excellence Showcase

Each year, students who successfully complete their Capstone Experience will have the opportunity to present their work at the Academic Excellence Showcase (AES) held in May. Students will be encouraged to revise and expand on their work and may arrange to earn course credit for their AES preparations.


Mark Van Steeter, Geography and Sustainability Department Chair

Email:  Office: BELL 216

Tel: 503-838-8855