my capstone experience

Ashley Finethy '11, a Communications Studies major from Alton Bay, N.H., discusses her Capstone project that analyzed the reality of "reality" television shows about teen pregnancy. The Capstone project, which involves extensive research and presentation, is the culmination of each student's academic experience.

While at Colby-Sawyer, Ashley was a member of Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication studies honor society, and Students Affirming Gender Equality (S.A.G.E.), and competed on the varsity volleyball team. Her plans for life after Colby-Sawyer include gaining experience in the communications field and attending graduate school.

Describe the subject of your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject.

My Capstone was "Oh Baby! The Teen Mom and the Reality of Reality Television" and I analyzed how realistic the television hit series “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” are compared to previous literature on teen mothers. I chose this topic because it is surrounded by a bit of controversy. Some media consumers think these series glamorize pregnancy while others see them as teaching tools. I wanted to get to the bottom of things and, as a fan, have an educated opinion.

What research did you conduct for this project?

The research component of my project was unique because it meant watching a lot of television. I watched the first two seasons of “16 and Pregnant” and the first two seasons of “Teen Mom.” After watching all the episodes and detecting major themes and trends, I conducted research by reading scholarly journals and studies, and I compared and contrasted the shows' similarities and differences. It took a lot of work but the results were interesting!

What did you learn through your Capstone project?

The biggest thing I learned was how to do a literature review. I was intimidated at first but it was easier than I thought and definitely a wonderful thing to know, especially as I plan on going to grad school and may continue doing scholarly writing. I was shocked by how much this project really connected with the courses I took here at Colby-Sawyer. All the English, women's studies and communications courses I had taken played a major role in my success with this project.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

I honestly had a blast doing the entire project. I wish I could continue working on it, to be honest. I think it's so important when you're doing a long term project like this to pick a topic that you absolutely love, and I loved the shows. I would talk about the girls on the episodes like they were my best friends so it made sense to look at this phenomenon in reality television from a scholarly perspective.

A fun and interesting topic makes for a fun and interesting research project. If I had to pick one aspect of the Capstone, I'd say the research was the most fun. I loved watching the shows and taking notes and I did love reading studies about teen moms because they have such a different perspective and experience than the teenage experience that I had.

What did you find most challenging and difficult about the project?

The most challenging thing was just being organized. I had so much information that if I didn't keep it all organized it would have been so overwhelming. It was also hard after having all of the research to figure out what was important and what wasn't. There was so much information I could have written a novel!

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project?

I just hope that it provides media consumers with a deeper understanding of reality television and provides different perspectives on the moral and ethical ideas about creating television shows based around such a controversial social issue. I also hope my project gives a context to the show as a teaching tool and that my paper shows the series' purpose to teach through visual media.

How would you summarize your Colby-Sawyer experience?

I'm sad to graduate. I've had the best professors who have encouraged me to follow the path that I am interested in and to think on a large scale about topics I am interested in. I came to college with a specific goal and idea of what I wanted to do, which was be a writer, but I was able to take so many paths and discover some other interests along the way.

A huge one for me was women's studies courses. I never looked at myself before college and said, "Yup, I think I'm a feminist." Through courses here I realized that I have a huge passion for women's rights and gender equality that I never imagined before college. I feel like I'm a completely different person, in a good way, compared to the person I was when I first set foot on the Colby-Sawyer Campus.