Final Project Handbook

Identifying a Final Project

Inspiration for the project can come from many sources.  Generally, projects begin as questions or smaller projects in a Scholar’s major, but they need not be limited to the major. Ideally, a Scholar will consider their areas of interest and approach relevant faculty members to discuss possible projects.

  1. Consider your interests and experience. What ideas do you have that you need help to develop? If you are really unsure, consider the following: why did you choose your major? What interested you about it? Think about your favorite courses and projects or questions you may have discussed.
  2. Once you have identified your general areas of interest, figure out who on campus might be able to help you develop more concrete questions or problems that would form the backbone of the project. Start by talking to the professors in your major that you know best and ask for recommendations. You can often find information about a professor’s research interests and experience on the departmental website.
  3. It is important to start the project as early as possible. Keep in mind that your first idea may not be viable. There are many reasons that this could happen—there may not be an appropriate mentor for you at UALR, IRB issues may require a major rethinking of the project, the project could require more funding than you have access to, or you may realize when talking with potential advisors and engaging with relevant literature that your idea is already well-trodden ground. 

Scope of the Final Project

The form and length of the Final Project will vary from discipline to discipline, but what all projects share is a focus on substantial original work that engages with, and is responsive to, existing literature in the field.  The scope of this endeavor is large.  From planning to write up, it will be conducted over multiple semesters, and in terms of actual work is often equivalent to six credit hours.  It is a chance to work individually with experts in the field to develop one’s own skills and knowledge.  While the committee members will guide the Scholar, this is the Scholar’s project and requires a great deal of personal initiative and commitment.  It is the capstone to the Scholar’s undergraduate career.

This is an opportunity for Scholars to tackle big questions about which they have often wondered. However, it is important to note that a project of the appropriate scale for the final project does require a certain amount of advanced content and methodological knowledge. Therefore, a Scholar considering a project outside of their major field of study should be able to demonstrate the requisite experience and background.

The Final Project Committee 

The committee is comprised of three persons and is chaired by the Scholar’s primary advisor.  Scholars are encouraged to include at least one member of the committee from outside of their major or area of research.  One committee member may come from outside UALR.  When choosing a primary advisor, Scholars should look for someone with professional expertise in the research area, rather than simply a passing interest. This person should be able to guide the Scholar in the relevant academic context and literature and knowledgeable about the appropriate methodology. All committee members should have specific expertise that relates to the content area or methodology of the project. The primary advisor serves as a mentor and collaborates with the student on research design and execution.  While the primary advisor is responsible for general oversight for the whole project, other committee members serve as periodic consultants with a narrower focus.  Each committee member should be given a copy of the Donaghey Scholars Final Project Committee Member Packet.

Format for the Formal Proposal

The formal proposal explains, defines, and justifies the Scholar’s final project.  As part of the approval process, the Donaghey Scholars Program Policy Council reviews and provides feedback on all proposals.  The Council may ask the student to revise the proposal if clarification is needed or if other concerns exist.  As the Policy Council consists of members with backgrounds in a variety of disciplines, care should be taken to give careful definitions of all terminology.

The formal proposal has six sections: problem statement; project statement; description of methodology; committee justification; statement of significance; bibliography.

Problem Statement The term ‘problem’ can be construed many ways:  conflicts within the discipline; a lack of important knowledge; incorrect or missing information; a need to apply knowledge; the absence of a unifying theory; a creative intention; etc.  What the Scholar does is establish a need for the proposed work.

Project Statement  In the project statement the Scholar should state clearly what will be done to address the problem.  It is a broad statement that frames the project within larger discussions or academic, intellectual, or artistic debates.  This could include bringing new information to an existing problem, expanding on a current area of research, applying models or theories to real-world scenarios, or the exploration of themes in the arts.

Methodology  The Scholar must explain what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.  This could include how data will be gathered and analyzed, what materials may be needed, or the stages of artistic exploration or development. Details are crucial.  The thoroughness of the methodology plays an important role in convincing the Policy Council that the Scholar both knows what the project entails and will be able to do it.  A key component of the Methodology Section is the inclusion of a realistic timeline for the various stages of the project.

Committee Justification  All of the committee members should have expertise that is relevant to the proposed project.  In this section, the Scholar should explain why these people were chosen for the committee.

Written Component  While all final projects must have a written component, the form varies greatly. For some research projects it may take the format of a journal article. Creative writing, literary analysis, or ethnographic projects may be much longer. Websites and other mixed media products may be a part of this written component. The bulk of an artistic or creative project may not be written at all, but be a performance or gallery show. All artistic projects (including creative writing) must include a reflective essay that discusses the project, the decisions made, and what the Scholar learned through the process. The Scholar should discuss with their committee the expectations for the written component. In this section the Scholar should describe what they will turn in to complete their final project.

Significance  The Scholar should explain why the completed work will be important and how it will contribute to the academic discipline, community, or the individual Scholar.

Bibliography  The proposal should include a bibliography of the relevant literature.

Independent Study Credit 

The final project requires a great deal of time and energy.  Although not required, some Scholars find it useful to carry out their project with an Independent Study through their major department.

The First Draft

The goal of the draft is to allow committee members to provide feedback and suggestions, as well as to permit the Scholar time to reflect upon and revise their project.  For the draft, all research and other foundational work must be complete, although analyses may well be rough.  The written component will be close to its final form, although organizational structure, analyses, and conclusions may not be fully intellectually formed.

The Oral Presentation

As a crucial component of the learning process, an oral presentation is required for all final projects.  Each Scholar is allotted thirty minutes for their presentations.  Generally, slightly more than half of this time is taken up with the presentation, leaving the remaining time for questions.  The questions may often be pointed and require a defense of the project, but approval of the project does not depend on the student’s performance in the presentation.  As a formal event, professional attire is required.  It is recommended that Scholars publicize their presentations within their departments/majors by posting flyers or email.

Turning it in

No later than the day before grades are due, Scholars must turn in their final project, along with the signed Final Project Exit Form.  Additionally, a copy of the final project should be emailed to as a PDF file.