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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supervisor Declaration Form
Once you have secured a senior project advisor, please complete and submit the online Senior Project Supervisor Declaration Form.
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 email@example.com.
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. John Battenburg
I welcome opportunities to supervise senior projects in Linguistics, TESOL, Early American Literature, and Nonfiction Writing.
Below are some recent senior projects:
Analysis of Shark Finning in the US and Worldwide
Bilingual Brain Trauma
International Stories of Finding Home
Passive Voice in Politics
A Study of Vietnamese Immigrants in US Nail Salons
TESOL in California
What to Do with TESOL
Dr. Brad Campbell
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. Ryan Hatch
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. John Hampsey
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. Brenda Helmbrecht
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. Krista Kauffmann
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. Paul Marchbanks
- 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. Mira Rosenthal
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. Steven Ruszczycky
In the past, students working with me have completed the following projects:
- A website dedicated to promoting literacy regarding gender, sexuality, and sexually explicit media encountered online.
- A podcast on obscenity and literary censorship.
- A seminar paper revised for submission to an academic journal.
Students may also devise a project in relation to the Central Coast Queer Archive Project (www.sloqueerarchive.org), which entails research into local queer and trans culture and history.
Finally, I welcome students interested in projects that align with my own research and teaching interests:
- LGBTQ+ literature and culture
- 20th and 21st century U.S. literatures and popular cultures
- Modern and contemporary cultural theory (queer and trans theory; biopolitical theory; critical disability studies; psychoanalysis)
- Porn studies
Dr. Debora Schwartz
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. Dustin Stegner
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.
Examples of recent editing senior projects may be found here:
Stephen Bateman's The Trauayled Pilgrim (1569). Ed. Katie Gezi.
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
Study Abroad in England: If you are part of the Summer 2022 northern UK and Scotland trip for English majors, you can use your time abroad as the foundation of your senior project, regardless of your year in the program. Contact me for details about how we can make this work -- your own interests will determine the details!
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 and have been promoted by both the birthplace and the Walt Whitman Digital Archive on social media, as well as highlighted at national literary conferences. Search for "Walt Whitman Video Series" on YouTube.
Would you like to help diversify our curriculum while saving English majors money? You can create Open Educational Resources (OER). These are open-access .pdf versions of U.S. literary texts that are in the public domain (that is, up to ~1926), which either augment or replace the textbooks currently being used. These high-quality FREE course materials are also fully accessible for students with disabilities. Thus far, English majors have created hundreds of individual texts for this ongoing project; you may have used them in ENGL 204, 303, 345, 346, 347, 348, 449, 459, and other courses. I welcome students who would like to work with traditionally underrepresented authors, including BIPOC and women.
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, feminist literature, 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!