Senior Project Information
All Cal Poly students are required to complete a Senior Project in order to graduate. The university and the English Department understand these projects to be a meaningful capstone that allows students to both showcase and extend what they have learned in the major to produce a significant, original text or experience. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and the resources below are designed to help you make the most of this endeavor.
Please read through everything carefully, and if you still have any questions or concerns, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Sophia Forster at email@example.com.
Supervisor Declaration Form
Once you have secured a senior project advisor, complete and submit the Supervisor Declaration form to the English Department main office (47-35).
Senior Project Showcase
The English Department hosts a Senior Project Showcase at the end of spring quarter. Projects range from research papers to an artist book to website creations to open educational resources to original fiction, poetry and plays. This showcase is an excellent way for students to share the smart, creative, and innovative work they produce for their capstone projects.
Featured Senior Project
Cal Poly senior, Amelia Meyerhoff created "The Clapback" to spark a movement that will promote empathy for victims of sexual violence, provide survivors a validating platform to voice their experiences, foster a community of survivors, and raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and rape on college campuses.
Senior project advisor: Dr. Ryan Hatch.
Senior Project (ENGL 461) FAQ
How many units is a senior project?
Senior Projects in the English Department are conducted under the aegis of English 461 and count for 4 units, which equates to 120 hours of work. Though you may very well devote more time to your project, the 120-hour guideline should give you some sense of the expansive scope and substance these projects allow.
When do I do a senior project?
Though you may work on your project over several quarters, you will formally register for your Senior Project (English 461) in one of the final quarters of your senior year. Typically, the department will contact you at least one quarter before you are slated to graduate with an authorization to enroll in an upcoming section of English 461, but it is imperative that you settle on an advisor and a project well in advance of that moment.
When and how should I choose an advisor?
It is important to begin thinking now about your project and the faculty members who might most effectively supervise it. Consider 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 Declaration” form to the department.
What kinds of projects can I pursue?
The goal is to find a project that is meaningful to you. For instance, if you are hoping to go to graduate school, a more “traditional” scholarly paper or creative writing portfolio might be a good option. Or, perhaps you hope to pursue a career in writing for the web; if so, maybe you’d create a literary blog, tumblr, twitter feed, etc. Not sure what you want to do post-graduation, but really love literature? Consider a public literature project—one that brings literature out of the classroom space and into the public sphere. Are you interested in the performance of literature? Maybe you could write, direct, and/or star in an adaptation of a novel or short story. Do you find linguistics interesting? Consider conducting a linguistic analysis of a social media site. Do you have a minor? Perhaps you could pursue a project that highlights the intersection of English and your minor field of study. Did a particular English course leave you wanting more? Why not deepen your understanding of that subject with a more focused study of the author/period? The ideas are limitless! Use your talents and interests to guide your choice of project—and see the list on the next page for some specific ideas.
Creative Writing Projects
The Cal Poly English Department offers many paths toward a senior project—projects in literature, composition, and even creative writing. These projects are an opportunity for you to explore your interests, often working with a mentor professor or a group of students who share your interests. A senior project in creative writing (that is, fiction or poetry) can be an exciting option. 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, students need to plan ahead to complete pre-reqs and turn-in important paperwork before the start of their senior year.
If you are a junior or senior interested in a senior project, you should fill out the creative writing senior project form AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, as space is limited. Only the first twelve students in each genre will have a spot in the creative writing section of ENGL 461.
If you are a sophomore or new junior interested in a senior project in creative writing, you should focus on the prerequisite coursework necessary to begin a senior project in creative writing.
The path to a senior project in creative writing is three classes—with the fourth requirement being the project itself:
For poetry students, the path is ENGL 388, ENGL 488 (taken twice), with the senior project offered as the capstone for the creative writing experience.
For fiction students, the path is ENGL 387, ENGL 487 (taken twice), with the senior project offered as the capstone for the creative writing experience.
The senior project (ENGL 461, four units) is usually taken after the SECOND ENGL 487 or ENGL 488 section, though it can be taken concurrently with the final workshop.
Many students find the most difficult class to acquire is the 300-level introductory class (ENGL 387 or ENGL 388) 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), an English major wishing to complete a senior project might even consider registering for this class as an advanced sophomore.
The 400-level workshops (ENGL 487 and ENGL 488) are presently offered in the fall and winter only. 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.
If—during spring quarter as a junior—you complete the form declaring your intent to pursue a senior project in creative writing and are accepted into the creative writing senior project group, you will be saved a spot in both the fall 400-level workshop (fiction OR poetry) and the winter 400-level workshop, thereby guarantying you the opportunity to complete your project by the end of the academic year.
Again, this year, the senior project in creative writing will function as a working group arranged during spring term, with independent study assignments to produce, revise and finalize creative work. Under department rules, seats in this project group are limited to 12 total in each genre. The creative writing senior project will carry 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 (roughly 25 pages of polished short stories OR a novella OR chapters toward a novel). Senior projects in creative writing also include a non-fiction essay in which students reflect on their literary influences and make connections between their coursework in literature and their own creative efforts.
CHECKLIST FOR INTERESTED STUDENTS:
Finish ENGL 387 (fiction) or ENGL 388 (poetry) in your sophomore or junior year. Attempt to take this course early.
Complete senior project paperwork as early as possible to save your spot in ENGL 487 (fiction workshop) or ENGL 488 (poetry workshop).
Once you complete the paperwork, you will have a space in both the fall and winter workshops. You will need to complete both 400-level workshops and the senior project assignments for full senior project credit.
You can learn more about creative writing at Cal Poly—including the path to a senior project in creative writing—on the English Department website.
If you have questions, please email Dr. Todd Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Faculty-Generated Ideas for Senior Projects
Below, you will find the names of some of our faculty, along with descriptions of some of the projects they are interested in working on with students. By no means are these lists comprehensive, so 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!
Dr. Campbell (bcampb02):
Little Magazine Project: inspired by the little magazines of modernism, individual students (or pairs) would be engaged in all aspects of theorizing, designing, creating, editing, and publishing a contemporary "little magazine" based on the protocols followed by the modernists in the early C20. Students would develop and articulate their own literary manifesto or ethos. Magazine would/could include creative works and works of literary criticism written and selected by students (along with a rationale for their selections). Prior to actually producing the magazine, students would research and read richly in the literature and history of print production, so the project would also double as a kind of mini-seminar on materiality-of-the-text issues.
An annotated edition of any of the numerous autobiographies of mental illness currently residing, neglected, in the public domain. The late C19 and early C20 saw numerous, fascinating narratives of mental illness published, most of which have long since vanished from view. The project I am imagining here would be, essentially, a scholarly edition of any one of these works. The student would become "the" expert on the chosen text and author (because quite literally no one else writes about them), and he/she would be responsible for writing an introduction, providing footnotes, etc.
A "critical geography" of a central coast writer (e.g. Jeffers, Steinbeck, George Sterling, etc.). Like a biography, a critical geography is a work of literary criticism that seeks to situate writers and their works in the particular landscapes that they inhabited and represent. As a senior project, such a geography would allow a student to dig deeply into the work of a single author and invite the student to VISIT the landscapes that he/she represents. The student would study the writer's work in situ and have a unique opportunity to reflect upon and articulate the ways that a physical landscape collaborates with a writer to produce a work of art. This project would be for a student who wants to get outdoors, do some hiking, and go hands-on with his/her project.
Dr. Hatch (rahatch):
I welcome students to work with me on Senior Projects in the following fields, or at the intersection of any of the following fields:
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. Hampsey (jhampsey):
Romantics, Victorians, Existentialism, Classical Greece. Aesthetics, memoir, creative nonfiction, the essay, Western intellectual history, critical theory--Greeks to 1900, screenwriting, imaginative essay writing, Blake, Faulkner, Beckett, Hopkins...
Dr. Helmbrecht (bhelmbre):
Film, screen, and analyze their own documentary film.
Study how images (in the form of advertising or even graphic novels) communicate with various audiences. Students could also create their own imagistic text and analyze it.
Study effective methods for teaching writing to high school students (especially for students interested in going into education).
Rhetorically and stylistically analyze written, persuasive texts
Undertake a letter-writing campaign to address issues of importance with public officials and organizations.
Work with a local non-profit organization to develop materials to help communicate their goals and values.
Study a local space to determine how it communicates with various audiences. Spaces could include the local mission, monuments, statues, etc.
Create a zine by writing text, creating images, and compiling them into a published zine distributed across campus.
Conduct a rhetorical analysis of a campus organization (the Cal Poly Gender Equity Center, e.g.).
Dr. Kauffmann (kjkauffm):
I would be happy to supervise projects in the following areas: modernism; contemporary British, Irish, and Anglophone world literature; the novel (particularly historical fiction and historiographic metafiction); anti- and postcolonialism; travel literature; visual studies; image-text interaction; and the graphic novel. Authors of particular interest to me include W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, the WWI poets (especially Sassoon and Owen), Pat Barker, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Zadie Smith.
Dr. Marchbanks (pmarchba):
- 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 of Dr. M’s expertise:
- 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. Rosenthal (mirosent):
Write a unified collection of poetry (usually 25 or more pages) with an artist’s statement.
Produce the annual issue of Byzantium (starting in 2018, positions will include Managing Editor, Poetry Editor, and Fiction Editor)
Present original poetry in an art book; may include letterpress printing, illustrations, accordion book, or some other form.
Complete a translation project of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or drama.
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 volunteering with California Poets in the Schools and teaching poetry in a K-12 classroom.
Dr. Rummell (krummell):
Projects in 18th century British literature or African-American literature. The possibilities are limitless—produce a graphic novel of The Rape of the Lock or other text; modernize and adapt an 18th century text into a blog, a vlog, or film; study and compare print and filmic neoslave narratives; etc.
Portfolio and Revision Projects: Create a portfolio of original and substantially revised work. One of the frustrations of the ten-week quarter is that there is never enough time to think carefully and at length about a given issue or to revise thoughtfully. This project provides students the opportunity to do both. This project is ideal for students who want to polish a writing sample for graduate school or who wish to leave Cal Poly with a portfolio of polished work they can show to future employers. Also, the project affords them time to focus on improving their writing and revision skills, important skills for most careers.
Dr. Schwartz (dschwart):
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.
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. Waitinas (cwaitina):
Walt Whitman Video Series: Cal Poly English majors have made around 60 videos to date exploring the life and work of Walt Whitman. Videos include poetry readings, historical/biographical shorts, connections to other authors, comedy and parodies, music videos, manuscript studies, etc. I welcome groups of students for these videos as well (in other words, you could work with peers to create videos together as senior projects.) You do NOT need experience making videos to complete this project!
These videos are featured on site at the Walt Whitman Birthplace and Museum in Long Island, New York as well as (soon) on their website. Prior and current participants have promoted the videos at conferences and on social media as part of their senior projects. Search for "Walt Whitman Video Series" on social media.
Ongoing "FreeLit" Open Educational Resources (OER) project: I'm seeking students to create open-access, free versions of early through 19th-century U.S. literary texts to either augment or replace the textbooks currently being used. The goal is to diversify the curriculum while providing high-quality FREE course materials; the OER texts are also fully accessible for students with disabilities. Thus far, students already have created hundreds of individual texts for this ongoing project; you may have used them in ENGL 204, 303, 346, 449, and other courses. I welcome students who would like to work with traditionally underrepresented authors, including writers of color and women.
- Students will identify authors/texts, create clean copies of these texts, and sometimes write headnotes, biographical notes, and footnotes for them; there probably will be opportunities to work with manuscripts and previously unpublished material (or material unseen since its original publication).
Other projects: I'm open to many types of projects and especially interested in working with students on nineteenth-century U.S. literature, early through 19th-century U.S. women writers, literary mesmerism, manuscript study, inter-arts projects (e.g. literature in combination with other arts such as painting/drawing, dancing, media arts, crafting, etc.), and projects regarding how literature engenders empathy in readers. Contact me!
Dr. Wolfson (wolfson):
- Writing for non-profit organizations: I am able to connect students with various non-profit organizations in the San Luis Obispo area, including El Camino Homeless Organization, the NOOR Foundation, Literacy for Life, and the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, for the purpose of conducting writing projects that advance these organizations’ social justice efforts. These projects include interviewing key stakeholders within the organization to develop human interest stories about the organization, creating written content for the organization’s blogs and newsletters, and developing the organization’s online presence (e.g. social media, websites, etc.).
- Research projects related to diversity, equity, and inclusion: I invite students to develop projects that involve researching a social issue related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly as it connects to their personal interests and lived experiences. Past projects have included evaluating popular cultural representations of historically underrepresented groups, proposing strategies for diversifying the English curriculum at both the K-12 and university levels, and analyzing the role of literature in addressing the stigma of homelessness.
- Creative and artistic projects: I invite students to work with me on projects that take on a variety of creative and artistic forms (e.g. creative writing, music, media arts, painting, dancing, etc.). Past projects have included writing a literary history that explores the experiences of three generations within the student’s family and writing a series of short stories that explore the concept of love across multiple social identity groups.
- Other projects: Contact me to propose a topic of your own! I’m open to many types of projects and especially interested in working with students on the following topics and fields:
- Comparative ethnic literary studies, particularly related to Asian American, African American, and Latinx literature
- Critical mixed race studies
- U.S. cultural and literary studies in a global/transnational context
- Social justice and community building efforts