Senior Projects


What is a Senior Project?

The Senior Project is the capstone project in the major and the culmination of your time at the UW. As such, it is an opportunity to show people (including yourself) what you have learned and what you are capable of doing, as well as a way to assess your own abilities at the end of your time in CEP and the UW. Beyond that, the Senior Project should be something of consequence to you. It should be meaningful to you as well as a source of pride.
Over the course of the senior year, you will identify, plan, carryout, complete, and evaluate a substantial project that you define and manage. Senior Projects can take a wide range of forms but must produce a tangible product that can be documented and evaluated. In addition to the core work of the project itself, seniors will also describe and analyze their project in writing as part of their online senior portfolio; present their work orally in spring quarter at Senior Project Night; and illustrate their work graphically in a poster produced for display in Gould Court for the CEP graduation. Throughout the year, seniors must also meet a number of required benchmarks designed to help students successfully complete the Senior Project requirement in time for graduation.

What are the Senior Project requirements?

All Senior Projects must meet the following:

Rigor, Quality, and Professionalism
The Senior Project is the evidence that expresses the true value and purpose of both its author and the major itself. Consequently, the first requirement of all projects is that they be dedicated, serious pieces of work of high quality, rigor, and professionalism. This applies not only to the final product of the project, but also to the integrity of the process that produces (which includes meeting the benchmarks set by the major), and to the thoroughness of the post-project assessment and reflection. To help ensure that these are high quality projects, seniors are required to have a mentor who can provide expert advice, guidance, and support.

Authorship and Originality
Senior Projects must also be original works. Though they may be continuations or extensions of earlier work, they must make a new contribution that is original to the author and undertaken with the intention of meeting the CEP Senior Project requirement. Senior Projects should also be shaped and conducted by the author, and the author must have a strong voice in the project and final product. Collaborative projects are fine as long as all collaborators are thoroughly involved and expressed in the final results.

Tangible Products
All Senior Projects must produce something tangible. This could be a research paper, a business plan, a policy proposal, an event, a video, a work of art, or any number of other things. Identifying and defining this outcome is one of the first steps in developing the Senior Project proposal. When you know what you want to produce, then all of your methods and processes should aim toward this goal. Your final assessment will be based in large measure on the quality of this final product and the processes that produced it.

Written Record and Analysis
Writing is integral to the Senior Project process and takes several required forms:

    A. Senior Project proposal. Due in fall quarter. This is an outline of your proposed project, including the product and the methods for producing it. Details along with deadlines will be provided early fall quarter.
    B. Final project write-up. Due in spring quarter. This includes a detailed overview of your work and description of your final product. The final write-up stands as the public written record of your senior project and should include all of the elements a third party would need to understand your project and assess the quality of your work.
    C. Reflective review and assessment. This occurs at the end of spring quarter. It is an opportunity for you to reflect on the Senior Project experience and identify the specific lessons you took from it as well as things you might have changed about it. This can be written for a broader audience or for you only.

In some cases, such as a research paper, elements B and C might naturally be incorporated in to the final product itself. In other cases, such as an event-focused project, B and C will stand separately from the final product. But in no cases will B and C be skipped.

Public Display and Review
Completed Senior Projects are presented to the public in two forms:

    A. Orally. All students give an oral presentation of their work in May at Senior Project Night. The presentations are given to an audience of invited quests and a panel of professionals and faculty. Students receive written and oral feedback from the panel.
    B. Graphically. All students create a poster that illustrates their Senior Project work. The posters are displayed in Gould Court during the final weeks of spring quarter and during the CEP graduation.

In addition to these public forms, the Senior Project is incorporated as a required element in the online Senior Portfolio, which is due at the end of spring quarter.

Evaluation and Measurement
Reflection is an important component of any educational experience. You are required to reflect upon your project at its completion, but it is also important that you establish particular ways to measure the success of your projects. You should establish these measures early in the process. Should the quality and success of your project be judged by the project’s length, by how many people it reaches, by how complete and thorough the methodology was, by how precise your analysis was, or by something else? Setting these standards early will help you and your audience better understand the goals of your work.

What types of Senior Projects are there?

Senior Projects can take many forms. Which form they take depends on the interests of the student author and the needs of the project itself. Within CEP, the most common forms of senior project are the following:

  • Client-Based or Professional Projects: These are projects that respond to the needs of a client. The client could be a community, an organization, or even another individual. Typically, these projects have a scope of work and set of “deliverables” that are defined by the client, though often in consultation with the student author. Typically, the deliverable takes the form of a professional report or plan. The primary audience for the project is the client. Client-based projects are analogous to the professional projects completed in the MUP program.
  • Academic Research Projects: These are research-based projects devised in full or in part by the student author. Research projects typically follow standard academic methods for developing questions and hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data, and writing up or presenting results. Students may independently develop and carry out their own research project, or they may work on a project led by a faculty member or advanced graduate student. Research deliverables usually take the form of scholarly papers or reports and are often presented at conferences or printed in scholarly journals.
  • Community Organizing Projects: These projects are aimed at organizing people around particular issues, events, or activities. They tend to be very process oriented, and often the deliverable – an event, a community meeting, a template for further action, etc. – is less substantial and complex than the process that produced it. Consequently, one of the deliverables of this type of project is a careful documentation of the process itself. By definition, community organizing projects are very collaborative and student authors typically work closely with other students (often not in CEP) or organizers. The audience for community organizing projects is, first, the population targeted by the organizing activity and, second, the other organizers or the organization sponsoring the event.
  • Entrepreneurial Projects: Though not as common in CEP, when done well, these are often the longest-lasting projects. Entrepreneurial projects are an opportunity to start a new organization or business. These are often very complicated projects with large work scopes and timelines that go beyond the senior year. Because of their complexity, entrepreneurial projects will often focus on only one or two phases of the entrepreneurial task, such as completing a market analysis, or developing a business plan. The deliverable for these projects is defined within the context of the larger mission of the project, and the primary audience is, typically, potential external supporters of the larger vision.
  • Demonstration Projects: Demonstration projects are projects that are designed to illustrate an idea, vision, process, or skill but do not have an identified client. They can be artistic (e.g. developing a portfolio of photographs), conceptual (e.g. a mock up of a new water filtration system), curriculum based (e.g. a curricular plan for teaching sustainable farming in local schools), or any number of other things. They are particularly good for students who want to develop an idea or follow a concept without being beholden to an outside client or organization. The methods, deliverables, and intended audience are highly dependent on the nature of the project itself and so must be carefully specified by the student author from the project’s start.
  • CEP-Oriented Projects: These respond to the needs of the major and tend to be very task oriented. Past projects have included revamping the CEP website, creating new Plumb Manual guidelines, and developing the alumni database. The scope of the project is determined in consultation with the major or its representative, and the audience for the project is the major itself.
  • It should be noted that these categories are not mutually exclusive. Client-based projects frequently involve original research and data analysis, for example, or demonstration projects can be parts of community organizing activities. However, as you select a project, pay particular attention to three key questions: 1) How much freedom do you have (and want) to define the work and deliverables? 2) What are the deliverables? 3) Who is the audience for the work?

    It is important to be clear with yourself about which kind of project you are most interested in and which kind of project you have taken on. Sometimes students want one kind of project but end up in another without realizing it. This causes a lot of stress and frustration, so it is best to discuss these questions up front.

    Can my internship be my Senior Project?

    Your internship cannot be your senior project, but it can be the context of your project. The difference is 1) the need for a senior project to have a deliverable and 2) the need for you to have some “ownership” of the work. Many internships train you in the day-to-day work of a particular profession or organization, but they do not give you the freedom to develop and complete a discrete project of your own. However, if you do have the opportunity to create a project within the internship, then the internship might be a very good resource for you. There are several advantages to this: you know the organization or issue; you have contacts who can serve as mentors; you are passionate about it. Remember though, the senior project is a three-quarter project, so it must be more substantial than the typical one-quarter internship.

    Can I use a class project for my Senior Project?

    A class project cannot be your senior project but it can be the starting point for your project. For example, in CEP 460 you and a group of collaborators may work with a community to develop local bike paths. The class project is to identify suitable routes through the neighborhood and potential bicycle hazards that require mitigation. The product is a map showing this information and a community meeting at the end of the quarter where it is presented. If you wanted to expand this work into a senior project you would need to go beyond this initial work. For example, during CEP 460 while the class was working on the map, as part of your senior project, you might on your own also be reviewing local ordinances around bike trails and developing a regulatory analysis that could accompany the map. In subsequent quarters you might then take the comments from the community meeting run by the class and use them to refine the map and then work with the community to develop a community-based plan for implementing the changes. Alternatively, you might take the skills you learned on the first map and work with neighboring communities to create similar maps and then connect them into a larger network of bike paths. In this manner, the CEP 460 class project becomes a small part of your more extensive work that produces its own deliverable.

    Can I use my project from my other major for my CEP Senior Project?

    Two senior projects can be related projects but they cannot be the same project. Using the same work to fulfill two separate requirements is called “double dipping” and it is generally against university and CEP regulations. One of the hazards of double majoring is the potential need to complete two substantial bodies of independent work in your senior year. Because of this, if you are double majoring with a second major that requires a senior project then good planning and time management is even more vital.
    Related projects are projects that share a subject area, question, problem, or site. For example, if your CEP project was the bike path project mentioned above and you had to complete another senior project for your Program on the Environment (POE) major, then your second project might be an analysis of the potential reduction in carbon output that could come as a result of increased local bicycle commuting. Or, if your second major is in Transportation Engineering, then your other senior project could look at ways of better integrating bus and bicycle traffic through improved street design and traffic flow management.

    If you are not sure if your senior projects are different enough to meet program requirements, ask the appropriate people from each program.

    How do I select a Senior Project?

    For many people, selecting a senior project is the most difficult and stressful part of the senior project process. But since it is the first step it is also the most important. It is vital to select a senior project as soon as possible so you can start working on it, but it is also quite normal for people to begin their senior year not knowing what their project will be. Do not avoid the stress of selecting a senior project by ignoring it. Instead, jump in with both feet and remember that a senior project is not your life’s work. It alone will not get you your first job (or keep you out of one). Nor does it have to be the most perfect project ever. It only has to fit your interests and meet the criteria of the major.

    What should I look for in a Senior Project?

    First and foremost, your senior project should be a reflection of your interests and abilities, so choose a project that allows you to further develop and refine, demonstrate, and expand the knowledge and skills you have been pursing over the past two years in your personal academic program. From time to time, senior projects are used to develop an entirely new interest or skill set that has been left “underfed” in your time at the UW. This is fine too. However, it is important to be intentional about this. Don’t take a project because you are desperate for an idea and this is the one that seems easiest to take on. You will spend a good deal of your senior year on this work, so it should be work you are interested in and find rewarding.

    Second, choose a project that others are interested in. The others can be near or far, but it is generally more enjoyable to work on a project that other people care about. More pragmatically, choosing a project that attracts a community of interested people means that you will have more human resources to draw on for mentors, expertise, advice, labor, and so on. One good piece of advice to this end is to “go where the energy is”, which means if you have a choice between a project that everyone in the community is talking about and a project that only you think is great, you might be better off selecting the former. There is a caveat to this of course: if you are a great visionary then your project might be to get people interested in something that they currently are not thinking about.

    Third, choose a project that fits the conditions of the senior project requirement. The three most important: it must be a demonstration of your work and ability; it must have a product; and it must fit the timeline, which means substantial enough for 2.5 quarters, but not so big you can’t get it done.

    Fourth, choose a project that actually can be done. Inventing a new biofuel probably cannot be completed for your senior project. Re-writing the science curriculum for Seattle Public Schools also probably cannot be done. There are three problems that students routinely run into and which you should avoid:

  • The scope of the project is too big. Usually this is the result of poor planning. Carefully mapping out the requirements of a project against a time line will give you some indication of whether your project can fit within the allotted time frame given your realistic work habits. If your project is too big, then consider breaking it into phases or parts and focusing only on one or two.
  • Your project involves unreliable partners. This is a problem particularly for client-based and community organizing projects. Clients and partners often get excited at the beginning of a project and then lose steam or get busy doing other things as the year goes on, leaving you high and dry. To minimize this, good communication is essential. Early on establish clear roles and expectations for the different members of the project and review these regularly. You may also need to be fairly aggressive at getting feedback or things that were promised to you which you need to progress.
  • You get caught in institutional bureaucracy and red tape. This is everywhere, but particularly when you are working with schools and government offices. People are busy, and there are a lot of rules, many of which are designed specifically to keep people like you out. Your best bet is to find a “champion” within the system you want to work with who can support your work and move it through the system. If your work is reliant on a champion, make sure this person is really committed to you and has the ability to move things forward.
  • What is a Senior Project Mentor and how do I find one?

    All seniors are required to find a mentor who can help support the project by providing expert advice and guidance. The mentor can be from the university, such as another faculty member, or from outside the university, such as a professional, but should know the field, project, and you well enough to be able to provide valuable help and advice in a timely fashion. Good mentors are like good coaches: they understand the work and can help you improve your own skills and knowledge without trying to take over the project themselves. A good mentor should also be accessible and reliable. It is also possible to have more than one mentor, and to use different people for different tasks.

    You are required to select your mentor by early winter quarter and turn in the signed mentor contract provided by the major. Once you have selected your mentor, you should meet to develop a clear communications plan and work scope that you both agree to. It is a good idea to meet with your mentor regularly and provide him or her with regular progress reports on your work. This is an important opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism to an outside person who could in turn become a strong advocate on your behalf. Consequently, mentors should be taken quite seriously.

    What are the Senior Project milestones?

    To ensure that all seniors successfully complete their senior projects in time to graduate, CEP has developed a set of required milestones that must be met throughout the senior year. These include, but are not limited to, a senior project proposal, a signed mentor contract, meetings with CEP Faculty/Staff, and a written abstract. A complete calendar of milestones is distributed at the beginning of fall quarter and can be found on the CEP website.

    Any last words of advice?

    The Senior Project can be one of the most rewarding parts of the major and your college career. It can lead to new opportunities (including employment), serve as an excellent demonstration of your abilities, and prove to yourself what you are capable of. But it can also be one of the most difficult things you do. The lack of structure, the freedom (and responsibility) to make your own decisions, and the open-ended time frame makes getting this work done a real challenge. Procrastination is your worst enemy. Indecision and doubt can bog you down. Waiting for others will run out the clock. To be successful you must 1) Jump into your project with vigor; 2) Set realistic goals and hold yourself to them; 3) Take command of your work and be aggressive at getting what you need to move forward; and 4) Never hesitate to ask for help. No one ever completes a Senior Project in isolation. All Senior Projects are developed and achieved in consultation with many others. If you get stuck or are unsure of how to proceed, you must ask for help sooner rather than later. The CEP staff and faculty fully expect to be consulted often and regularly, and are ready to assist you at whatever point your at in your work.