The Master of Liberal Arts capstone project
The capstone project is the culmination of your Master of Liberal Arts experience. By integrating two or more academic disciplines, your capstone reflects the mission of the MLA program itself: to provide a place for you to create your own graduate curriculum across the arts and sciences.
The content and scope of your capstone project can be tailored to your professional and intellectual goals. The project showcases the skills and knowledge you've acquired at Penn, and acts as an opportunity for you to push yourself to new heights.
Although there are no set guidelines for capstone projects, there are two common approaches to writing capstones. In the first approach, the capstone is an extended research paper, based on primary and/or secondary sources. In the second approach, you design a more creative project, and then contextualize it with academic support or commentary. For example, some students write a series of short stories or poems, or a memoir, supplementing their writings with a short analytical piece that surveys some important literature in their fields of interest and explains how their creative pieces compare with that literature.
Recent capstone projects include:
- For as Long as They Both Shall Give by Nicole Fortuna
- The Fall of Nor and Other Stories by Thomas Hutt
- Telling My Father's Story: Writing Through the Silences by Caroline Lee
- Social Media and Museum Collections by Yin Liu
- Decoding Anxiety Expressed Through Non-Verbal Communication by John Richard O'Donnell
The Capstone Forum
Each year, selected graduating students present their projects at a Capstone Forum. This event is open to the community and gives new and prospective students a chance to meet other scholars, faculty and administrators.
2020 Master of Liberal Arts Capstone Forum
Recent MLA graduates discuss how their capstone topics were developed, how their capstones relate to their interdisciplinary degree concentrations, and how their coursework prepared them for their final project.
2016 Master of Liberal Arts Capstone Forum
The 2016 MLA Capstone Forum showcased the capstone projects of six MLA graduates.
Supervisor of security and docent, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
A medieval re-enactor, Anglophile and comparative religion scholar, Tim Crowe used his MLA experience to dig into the subjects that fascinate him—unorthodox religions and sects. He discusses the “left-hand path,” which includes voodoo, ceremonial magic and modern-day Satanism.
Associate Trust Administrator, University of Pennsylvania
After changing to a vegetarian diet a few years ago, Danielle Flitter discovers just how closely food was tied to her family’s traditions. In her research, she asks, do food customs define our cultural identity? Does a change in what an individual eats impact their personal identity?
Assistant Director of University Stewardship, Development and Alumni Relations, University of Pennsylvania
A southwest Philadelphia native and first-generation graduate, Jennifer O’Mara dives into her past through a two-part research and memoir project. In her presentation, she explores creative writing as therapy for individuals who have experienced traumatic childhood grief and how the MLA program helped her find her voice.
Director of Alumni Relations, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania
When Thomas Eakins’ masterpiece The Gross Clinic was up for sale by Jefferson University, locals and art institutions alike banded together to keep the painting in Philadelphia. Brad Richards, a native Philadelphian explores the painting’s significance to the city, art history and medical science.
French and Spanish instructor, William Tennent High School
As a teacher with many Latin American students, Joan Savion often observes the difficulties that newly arrived young people have in fitting into the mainstream culture of their school. She established a tutoring and outreach program led by bilingual students to bridge the gap. Using her work as a case study, Joan focuses her MLA research on the intersections of urban studies, Latin studies and linguistics.
PhD Student, University of California, Berkeley
Kristin Zuhone’s capstone project concentrates on the employment-based immigration program EB-5 through the lenses of philosophy, political science and public policy. Through her research, she uncovers the ethics and politics of selling citizenship.