Senior Project Information

 All Cal Poly students complete a Senior Project in order to graduate. The university and the English Department both see these projects as a capstone – or an opportunity to showcase and extend what students have learned in the major. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination! The information below can help you make the most of your senior project.

Please read through everything carefully, and if you still have any questions or concerns, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Brenda Helmbrecht English Department Associate Chair.

You can access the Senior Project Advisor Declaration Form here.

Senior Project (ENGL 461) FAQ

How many units is a senior project?

To complete your senior project, you will enroll ENGL 461–a 4.0 unit class– in Fall or Spring. You should plan to devote as much time to your senior project as you would any 400-level class.

When should I complete my senior project?

Though you may work on your project over several quarters, you will formally register for your Senior Project (ENGL 461) in fall or spring of your senior year. A faculty member should agree to advise your project well in advance of taking ENGL 461.

When and how should I choose an advisor?

Consider a faculty whose scholarly interests overlap with your own and then approach them with your ideas. The project list at the end of this document can help direct you toward potential project supervisors. As soon as you settle on an advisor, please submit a Senior Project Advisor Declaration Form.

What kinds of projects can I pursue?

By the end of your junior year as an English major, you will have spent three years engaging with new concepts, texts, and questions. What subjects have piqued your interest? What do you want to learn more about? The senior project enables you to engage with ideas that are meaningful and significant to you. You can start to work on your own professional goals, too. Here are some ideas that can help you start thinking about your own project:

  • Do you love literature? Consider developing a public literature project, or a project that brings literature out of a classroom space and into the public sphere.
  • Do you like working with public rhetoric? Perhaps conduct your own study of how language is used in public and/or digital spaces.
  • Do you want to pursue a career in digital writing or editing? Perhaps create a blog or design a webpage with a specific focus. Or work with the Book Arts Lab.
  • Are you interested in performance? Maybe you could write, direct, and/or star in an adaptation of a novel or short story.
  • Do you love film? Write your own screenplay or direct your own short film.
  • Do you like to work with images? Perhaps develop a photo essay or analyze images you interact with online.
  • Do you plan to attend graduate school for a Masters degree or PhD? You could engage with scholarly research and writing that could be submitted with your application, or develop a creative writing portfolio.
  • Do you want a career in education? Perhaps develop lesson plans around a specific test or concept. You could also interview current instructors and learn from them.
  • Do you find linguistics interesting? Consider diving deeper into linguistic analysis and the structures of language.
  • Are you earning a minor? Pursue a project that highlights the intersections of English and your minor field of study.
  • Did a particular English course leave you wanting more? Expand your understanding of that subject with a more focused study.

 

Faculty Areas of Expertise and Project Ideas

Below, you will find the names of faculty who direct senior project, along with descriptions of the areas of expertise and some of the projects they are interested in working on with students. By no means are these lists comprehensive. If you have an idea you don’t see represented here—or if you wish to work with a faculty member not listed here—please do not hesitate to approach your professors with your ideas. They are eager to work with you! If you are unsure who to work with, schedule a meeting with Dr. Brenda Helmbrecht.

Dr. John Battenburg

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Linguistics
  • TESOL
  • Early American literature
  • Nonfiction writing

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

 


Dr. Brad Campbell

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • American Literature
  • Modernism
  • The Literatures and Histories of Madness and Mental Illness
  • Environmental Literature
  • The literature of Americans in Paris
  • California Literature

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

I am open to a wide range of projects, from the strictly “literary” to those which draw on other modes and mediums.  Creative projects and ideas are very welcome.  In the past, I have worked with students on projects that include the creation and production of Little Magazines; annotated editions of nineteenth-century mental illness autobiographies; critical geographies of central coast writers including Steinbeck (working in–and producing work about–central coast landscapes); a weekend-long mental health awareness fair; and academic conference papers.
 

Dr. Deb Donig

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Humanistic and ethical approaches to technology
  • Alternative media
  • Global Anglophone literatures and culture
  • Law
  • Memory studies
  • Human rights

 


Dr. Ryan Hatch

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Modern and Contemporary Drama (Research, Creative, or Hybrid projects)
  • Modern and Contemporary Literary and/or Cultural Theory (especially projects in Marxist, Psychoanalytic, and/or Queer Theory)
  • Philosophy (especially contemporary French philosophy) and Literature.
  • The Historical and Contemporary Avant Gardes (American and European)

 


Dr. John Hampsey

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Romantics
  • Victorians
  • Existentialism
  • Classical Greece
  • Aesthetics
  • Memoir, creative nonfiction, and the essay
  • Western intellectual history
  • Critical theory (Greeks to 1900, screenwriting, imaginative essay writing, Blake, Faulkner, Beckett, and Hopkins)

 


Dr. Brenda Helmbrecht

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Public rhetoric and writing
  • Film studies and screenwriting (with an emphasis on gender representations in film, documentary films, and horror)
  • Gender and feminist studies
  • Rhetorical theory (with an emphasis on spatial rhetorics, women’s rhetorics, rhetoric and memory, and visual rhetoric)
  • Histories and narratives of the California mission system
  • Education and literacy
  • Furthering the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

     Students I recently advised have:

  • Written screenplays; directed their own short films; studied films of a specific director or films within a specific genre
  • Created blogs and websites focusing on issues of importance to them, such as violence directed towards AAPI-identified people
  • Wrote and published zines
  • Conducted rhetorical analyses of both physical and online spaces (i.e. neighborhoods, CA mission locations)
  • Created artists books
  • Studied and wrote grant proposals for non-profits
  • Analyzed how textbooks teach high school students about sexuality and gender identity

 


Dr. Krista Kauffmann

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Modernism
  • Contemporary British, Irish, and global Anglophone literature
  • Women’s literature and the novel
  • Postcolonial literature and theory
  • Travel literature
  • Visual studies
  • Image-text interaction
  • The graphic novel/memoir
  • Authors of particular interest include Virginia Woolf, the WWI poets (especially Sassoon and Owen), Pat Barker, W.G. Sebald, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Zadie Smith 

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

 I welcome students interested in doing a range of projects, from traditional academic research projects to creative projects. I am particularly eager to work with students on projects that mix visual imagery and text. These might include artists’ books, photo-essays, visual interpretations of literary texts, poetry or short stories that incorporate drawings and/or photographs, or graphic novels/memoirs.
 

Dr. Paul Marchbanks

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

  • Author-Specific Directed Study: guided reading of 3-5 novels involving weekly, one-hour discussion sessions, two short essays, and a final project.
    19th-century options:
    Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Robert Browning, George Eliot (Marianne Evans);
    20th-century options: Edith Wharton, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Flannery O’Connor, C. S. Lewis
  • Topic-Specific Directed Study: guided reading of 3-5 novels involving weekly, one-hour discussion sessions, two short essays, and a final project
    options shaped by literary genre: dystopia, gothic lit., the grotesque
    options shaped by disability issues: cognitive/intellectual difference, mobility difference, audition difference, vision difference, mental illness
  • Creative Projects: student-shaped projects involving others areas:
    the films of Danish auteur Lars von Trier; The Bible; Irish drama; video production (w/ Adobe Premiere); teaching literature in secondary school; lesson plans

 


Dr. Shanae Martinez

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Indigenous American Literatures
  • Indigenizing Knowledge Production
  • Decolonial Praxis and Critical Pedagogy
  • Trans-Indigenous and Transnational Resistance
  • Feminist Alliances 
  • Travel and Tourism

    Sample Projects and Ideas:

I will be advising the Book Arts Lab, which is a series of three courses students take to study the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the creation of books, prints, and micropublications.
 

Dr. Jay Peters

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Bilingual and multilingual literacy
  • Language education research (K-12 and college-level)
  • Environmental rhetoric and communication
  • Sustainability
  • Environmental justice
  • Poetry
  • Aligning senior projects with internships, double majors, or volunteer work they are also completing

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

  • “Observations of ESL Pedagogies”
This project conducted and analyzed several hours of an ESL classroom at Cuesta College with university IRB approval for conducting research with human subjects in educational settings.
  • “We Is Can Speak English”
This project reported on the student’s experience teaching English at an elementary school in Sanya, China, for three months in the summer of 2016. The student received university IRB approval for conducting research with human subjects in educational settings.
  • “The Normalization of Sexist Language in Media Coverage of Political Candidates”
This project used computer-assisted critical discourse analysis to analyze over four dozen news articles across six national news sources to demonstrate a pattern of sexist representations in media coverage of the 2016 presidential election.
  • “Madrona: A Micro-Geography of the 1960s and 1970s”; “A Journey through the Gulf”
For this project, a student designed and formatted the book, Madrona: A Micro-Geography, by Brett Bodemer, for publication on Cal Poly’s Digital Commons.
 

Dr. Todd Pierce

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Creative Writing – Fiction and Poetry
  • Contemporary American Literature
  • Mid-Century Animation

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

  • Directing senior projects in fiction writing

 


Dr. Mira Rosenthal

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Creative writing
  • Literary translation
  • Contemporary American poetry
  • Comparative literature
  • Central and East European literature

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

  • Write a unified collection of poetry (usually 25 or more pages) with an artist’s statement
  • Complete a literary translation project of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or drama
  • Present original poetry in an art book; may include letterpress printing, illustrations, accordion book, or some other form
  • Work with a literary journal or small press publisher on a specific project (I can help connect you with an internship position)
  • Study the work of a 20th-century or contemporary poet (could be comparative)
  • Learn creative writing pedagogy by creating a lesson plan to teach poetry in a K-12 classroom

 


Dr. Steven Ruszczycky

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • LGBTQ+ Literature and Culture
  • U.S. Literatures after World War II
  • Theory and Criticism, with an emphases in Queer Theory
  • Popular Culture and Genre Fiction
     

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

  • A website that promotes sexual literacy by evaluating online sex education resources
  • A research essay suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal
  • An analysis of popular music lyrics by a range of contemporary artists
  • A memoir based on the collection of family stories
  • A research essay on the gendered rhetorics of post-match interviews in professional tennis
  • A podcast on obscenity and book bans

 


Dr. Debora Schwartz

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

I am happy to direct senior projects on any medieval to Renaissance/early modern literary or dramatic topic, or on works and authors from more recent periods that draw on or re-imagine medieval/Renaissance themes and characters.

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

I particularly enjoy working with students on creative projects that are inspired by, rework, or respond to early literary and dramatic traditions, conventions, characters, themes or motifs. I am very interested in issues of gender. I'd also enjoy working with you on a project in or on genres connected with these fields (e.g epic fantasy; young adult fantasy; fairy tales).

Dr. Dustin Stegner

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

For several years, I have supervised senior projects – both in groups and individuals – on editing projects that are published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Students who have completed these projects have gone on to pursue careers in editing at such pressed as HarperOne in San Francisco and Oxford University Press in New York.
You can find recent examples editing senior projects here:
I am also always interested in working with students on senior projects on Shakespeare, and many students have created Shakespeare lesson plans for secondary education classrooms. I’m also able to supervise projects on early modern literature and drama, religion and literature, and graphic novels or comic books.

Dr. Catherine Waitinas

     Areas of Expertise and Interest:

  • Early through mid-19th-century U.S. literature
  • Early through 19th-century U.S. women writers
  • Literary mesmerism
  • Feminist literature
  • Manuscript/archival study
  • Inter-arts projects (e.g. literature in combination with other arts such as painting/drawing, dancing, media arts, crafting, etc.)
  • Teaching units
  • Literary creative writing
  • Literature and empathy

     Sample Projects and Ideas:

  • Study Abroad in England and Scotland: Individual projects based on your own skills and interests. Program starts in summer 2022 and will run every other year thereafter.
  • Walt Whitman Video Series: Individual or group projects. No video experience necessary! Videos created to date include poetry readings, historical/biographical shorts, connections to other authors, comedy and parodies, music videos, manuscript studies, etc.
  • Open Educational Resources (OER): Would you like to help diversify our curriculum while saving students money? You can create Open Educational Resources (OER), open-access, ADA-accessible, FREE .pdf versions of public domain U.S. literary texts. You may have used our OER in ENGL 204, 303, 345, 346, 347, 348, 449, 459, and other courses.

 

Creative Writing Paths in Poetry and Fiction

A senior project in creative writing (fiction or poetry) can be an exciting way to finish your undergraduate career at Cal Poly. A creative writing senior project can be a collection of your own short stories, the start of a novel, or a chapbook of poetry. But in order to complete a creative writing senior project, you will need to plan ahead to complete prerequisites by your junior year and turn-in important paperwork at the start of your senior year.

Students who wish to complete the full path to a senior project in creative writing take four classes—with the fourth class being the project itself. All of these classes contribute toward the English major. If you are interested in arranging your own creative work into a senior project, you should begin a creative writing path no later than your junior year.

Poetry:

  • ENGL 388
  • ENGL 488 (taken twice)
  • ENGL 461 (often taken during the spring term)

Fiction:

  • ENGL 387
  • ENGL 487
  • ENGL 461

The senior project (ENGL 451, four units) is typically taken after the SECOND ENGL 487 or ENGL 488 section

Completing ENGL 387:

Many students find the 300-level introductory class (ENGL 387 or ENGL 388) to be the most difficult class to acquire because this course also fulfills a G.E. requirement. If you are interested in pursuing the creative writing senior project, you should plan early to take the 300-level introductory class. As this is a junior-level class, which is always impacted (with a substantial waitlist), English majors wishing to complete a senior project might even consider registering for this class as an advanced sophomore.

The 400-level workshops (ENGL487 and ENGL 488):

These courses are almost always offered in the fall and winter only, though you should check with the department as schedules can change. Many seniors pursuing a senior project take the fall and winter sections together, thereby allowing the class to exist, in part, as a continuous 22-week program in which they produce, examine, and revise their own creative work, with an eye toward completing a set of stories, chapters, or poems as a senior project.

Completing the Path in Creative Writing:

You should fill out the Senior Project Advisor Declaration Form AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, as space is limited to twelve students in each genre. You also must have finished or be enrolled in ENGL 387 or ENGL 388 to complete a senior project form.

ENGL 461:

The senior project in creative writing typically functions as a working group that meets during spring term, with regular, independent study assignments to produce, arrange and revise creative work. At times, senior projects can also function as a quarter-long independent study. The creative writing senior project carries four-units of ENGL 461 credit, with the expectation that this unit load will allow students to finish either a well-ordered and unified chapbook of poems or a substantial presentation of fiction (a minimum of 25 pages of polished short stories OR a novella OR chapters toward a novel, though often senior projects are longer).

Questions concerning poetry projects should be directed toward Dr. Mira Rosenthal.

Questions concerning fiction projects should be directed toward Dr. Todd Pierce.

 

Past Senior Projects

 

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