Capstone Experiences

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The Capstone Experiences

Students in Interdisciplinary Studies complete their programs of study through engaging in a two-semester Capstone Experience designed to integrate their academic studies with their career goals and facilitate the transition from student to professional.  Students have the opportunity to  complete either an internship or senior research thesis.


Internship I and II (IST 496 and 498)


Students who wish to participate in an internship to gain work experience in their fields of professional interest complete a two-semester internship sequence.  In Internship I (IST 496, 3 credit hours), students engage in 120 hours of supervised on-site work experience at an approved business, agency, or organization, in addition to completing academic readings and assignments.  In Internship II (IST 498, 3 credit hours), students engage in study, research, and writing designed to facilitate their transition from student to professional.


Senior Research Thesis (AIS 380 and 430)


Students who wish to engage in undergraduate research complete a two-semester research sequence. A research proposal is developed in AIS 380 (3 credit hours) and the project is completed in AIS 430 (3 credit hours) under the supervision of a USA faculty member with expertise in the area of study. The Senior Research Thesis is designed to allow students to develop additional skills in critical thinking, writing, and research and is particularly suitable for those considering graduate study.


Internships are a way to build professional expertise in a chosen field.  An internship serves as the beginning of a student’s professional career.  It should provide the opportunity to build the necessary knowledge and skills as well as give students the opportunity to make contacts that may result in employment post-graduation.  In some cases, students are hired by the agency or organization where they serve their internships. 


bullet When do I serve my internship? 

You can register for IST 496 Internship I after having successfully completed IST 302 or AIS 301 (for ADP students entering the program Fall Semester 2011 or after). You should complete your internship the semester prior to the semester in which you plan to graduate. IST 498 Internship II is then taken during your final semester. 


In order to register for IST 496, you must have identified an internship site, met with the person who will serve as your site supervisor, and completed all the necessary paperwork, with signatures. This preliminary work is usually completed during IST 302/AIS 301. Once that is completed and signed off by the Interdisciplinary Studies Internship Coordinator, the hold will be lifted and you can register for IST 496. 


bullet Can I be paid for an internship? 

Yes, under certain circumstances. Your internship is designed to give you new opportunities to develop professional knowledge and skills. In most situations, internships are not paid. The agency or organization is expected to provide the student with opportunities to learn and give them appropriate support and supervision. This often requires a significant amount of time and resources from the internship site. The internship is designed to benefit the student. This is not to say, however, that the site does not benefit from having the intern - indeed, many interns have made strong contributions at their sites. 


In some cases, internships are designed to be paid. In these cases, the internship site is usually looking for students who already have some experience in the area and can come in and meet the needs of the organization. For example, a number of our students with the Leisure Studies discipline have served paid internships as summer camp counselors.


As long as your internship is reflective of your disciplines and the professional goals you identified in your Rationale, it is just fine for you to be compensated for your work. Just remember – the purpose of the internship is professional skill development, not income!


bullet What is required in an internship? 

An internship in Interdisciplinary Studies requires 120 hours of on-site work over the course of the semester, as well as additional course requirements, such as documenting your time, keeping a journal, and developing a professional portfolio. IST 496 is taught on-line.  Your IST 496 instructor will maintain close communication with you and your site supervisor to ensure a successful internship experience.  Your site supervisor at the internship location will provide feedback that will contribute to your grade in the class.


bullet Where can I serve my internship?

Short answer – within Alabama or anywhere internationally.  Sites can be in the Mobile area, or even on-campus. They can be in other locations around the world! Some students choose internship sites in the location where they want to live after graduation. We have had many students doing international internships. IST 496 and HTM 498 are online courses.


bullet How do I find an internship site?

The student has the primary responsibility to identify the internship site, with support from the course instructor.  Many of you may already have good ideas about potential sites, others may be just beginning to think about this. 


Keep in mind that finding a good internship site can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, just like any other type of job search.  Your first choice may not be available.  You have to be creative, flexible, and persistent. It may require multiple calls, visits, emails, and follow-up communication. The more time and thought you invest in this process, the more likely you are to have a positive internship experience. 


One of the best resources we have for finding paid and unpaid internships is USA Career Services. Call them at (251) 460-6188  or visit


Think global!  Our USA Office of International Education can help you explore opportunities for international internships.  Many students would love to go abroad, but assume it is too expensive or there is not an opportunity in your chosen field. If travelling has always been something you have wanted to do, just talk to your IST 496 instructor or the staff in the Office of International Education. They can help you determine if this is an option for you and explore scholarships and other financial options. Be open to the possibility!  Because international internships require additional planning, be sure and start early. 


Think about the skills you are going to need in your profession.  What are the types of sites that may provide you the opportunity to learn those skills?   Then identify those types of organizations in the area where you wish to serve your internship.  The internet is an invaluable resource, but don’t overlook the good old Yellow Pages.  Start talking about this with those around you – friends, relatives, co-workers.  Ask professors in your other disciplines about potential sites and contacts.


Start making contact as soon as possible.  More than ever, businesses and organizations are very busy and it may take a while to make contact with the person you need to speak with. Remember that this is the beginning of your professional career and act accordingly, just as if you were seeking employment. Be professional, courteous, and reliable in your initial contacts. 


Make a list of your preferred sites but don’t count on just one.  Find out as much as you can about each site – location, services provides, size of organization. It helps you to decide, plus it is always good to go into a meeting knowing as much about the site as possible. You can go through a number of options before you find your site. 



Don’t get discouraged or stop working on this.  For some, finding an internship site turns out to be easy, but for most, it proves to be much harder than anticipated. Get ready to invest some time and energy – it is worth it.  


Meet with someone from your selected sites.  Bring your resume. Be prepared to talk about your interests and experience, and what you hope to learn from your internship.  Ask questions about the site. What types of responsibilities and opportunities would you have?  Who would be your supervisor? Do they require a criminal background check? Do you need professional liability insurance?  ** USA students are not to provide transportation as a part of their internships.


Stay in touch with your IST 496 instructor.  If you are having a problem thinking about what you want to do for your internship or identifying potential sites, make an appointment to meet and explore your options. 


Complete the required forms and bring them to your IST 496 course instructor for signature. Once your internship has been reviewed and approved, the hold on registration for IST 496 will be lifted. 

Senior Research Thesis

Students completing a senior research thesis develop the skills and knowledge required to meaningfully engage in academic research at the undergraduate level. Through completion of a senior thesis, you will:

  • Identify a topic of high interest to you and relevance to your chosen field,
  • Engage in a critical analysis of research findings on the selected topic,
  • Develop an awareness of research methods and basic statistics and their applications,
  • Engage in project planning and evaluation,
  • Work closely with a faculty member with expertise in your selected topic,
  • Develop your own expertise in your selected topic, and
  • Demonstrate professional skills highly desired in the workplace, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, evaluation, and oral and written communication.

When is the senior research thesis completed?
The senior research thesis is considered a capstone experience in your academic experience and is completed in the final two semesters of study.

How do I select a topic for my research?
The senior research thesis is an opportunity for you to develop expertise on a topic or issue of high interest to you and relevance to the profession field you would like to enter. Possible topics are almost limitless, but must reflect your area of concentration.

What is the process for completing a senior research thesis?

All students in Interdisciplinary Studies are required to successfully complete AIS 300 Foundations of Interdisciplinary Research and AIS 350 Critical Expression prior to beginning a senior research thesis. These courses teach the foundations of research and academic writing and prepare you for success in your own research project.


Your thesis will be completed over your last two semesters of study. Once all prerequisite courses have been completed, you can register for AIS 380 Research Methods and Project Development. In this course, you will select your topic of study, conduct a review of the research literature already published on your topic, select a research methodology, and develop a proposal describing your planned project.


What support and guidance will I have in developing and completing my thesis?
The prerequisite courses have been designed specifically to provide a strong foundation in undergraduate research and academic writing. Through these courses, you will have the opportunity to develop the skills necessary for the successful design and implementation of your senior research thesis. The courses you take in your three selected disciplines will provide the interdisciplinary base of knowledge in your concentration.


What is the role of the faculty advisor?
Once the project proposal has been developed in AIS 380, the student works with the course instructor to identify a faculty advisor for the senior research thesis. This faculty advisor can be any faculty member at USA who has expertise in the topic selected by the student. Every student completing a senior research thesis works closely with a faculty advisor in the development and implementation of her or his project. This advisor works closely with the student in the project design, research methodology, and writing. The collaborative relationship between the student and the faculty advisor provides the expertise and guidance necessary for the successful completion of the thesis.


When is my thesis completed?
The senior research thesis is designed as your capstone experience, serving as a way to demonstrate the knowledge and skills developed through your coursework. After the proposal is developed and a faculty advisor is identified in AIS 380, the student will implement the project in AIS 430 Senior Project Capstone II Experience. In this course, you will work closely with your faculty advisor in conducting and evaluation your research, as well as writing the thesis. This course is completed in your final semester of study.