my capstone experience

Zachary Irish '08

Zachary Irish '08, a History, Society, and Culture major with Secondary Teaching Certificate from Exeter, N.H., discusses his senior Capstone project, which involved researching the underlying causes of the Salem Witch Trials. The Capstone project, which involves extensive research and presentation, is the culmination of each student's academic experience and part of the Liberal Education Program at Colby-Sawyer College.

While at Colby-Sawyer, Zachary was president of the student government and the HSC Club, served as a resident assistant, and was on the Citizenship Education Community Council, the Academic Policy Committee, the Allocations Committee, and the Academic Dean Search Committee, among other endeavors. After graduation, he will be a Resident Director at a small New Hampshire college.

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

I became interested in the Salem Witch Trials when I was student teaching in a high school. In a mini unit I was teaching for an Advanced Placement American History class, we had a discussion about the causes of this tragedy in the late seventeenth century. One of my students suggested that it may have been the societal pressures implanted by John Winthrop and his ideology of "a shining city upon a hill." The idea fascinated me and I immediately adapted the topic and idea to my Capstone project and created my thesis.

My thesis was this: In the aspiration of John Winthrop's visionary village of a city upon a hill, it was the fear of falling short which brought the Puritan society to its own destruction in the late seventeenth century.

What research did you conduct for this project?

I conducted research using everything from text books and novels to others' research. I also used articles about Puritan life and the idea of a City Upon a Hill as well as a fabulous video about the Salem Witch Trials produced by the History Channel.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what ways is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

The Capstone experience really provided a great end to the Colby-Sawyer experience because, for me, it depended on using information from my very first day here four years ago. In my research, I looked back to the textbooks of HIS 101, I used the research techniques we honed in HSC 100 and HSC 400, I used the ideas of discrimination and prejudice that we discussed in my Pathway, and because of Colby-Sawyer's interdisciplinary emphasis, I was able to tie in different aspects of Puritan life and the effects of witchcraft. The Capstone experience is wonderful because it ties up all the loose ends one may have at the end of four years.

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

Having a finished product is an amazing feeling. The paper I wrote was called “The Broom in the Bay,” and the presentation I created around it was called “Underlying Causes of the First National Tragedy.”

Putting the last touches on the paper and hearing the applause at the end of the presentation were definitely rewarding parts of the process. It is great to look back and realize that I did all that research and see how the hard work paid off. It was fun trying to create my own extensive research paper by putting my own twist on it, and it is so rewarding to know what I have accomplished.

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

At times it was difficult to find the exact research that I needed or wanted. Time management was also extremely difficult, trying to continue with my other classes while keeping up the motivation to work on the Capstone. The writing of the actual paper was not as difficult as I thought it would be, but finding the time to write it or trying to find more research after the fact, was difficult.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

I hope this Capstone will show others that even the largest projects can be started by children – like my high school students - and that children are the future. We must listen to their thoughts and value them. To know I got my thesis from a student makes chills go through me because I am so proud that a high school student was able to think outside the box and take the overlying cause of fear that many have written on and develop a new thought of going deeper. The Capstone will have a lasting impression on me because I now realize I can complete a complex and extensive project such as this, but I was also able to work hard, to take an idea and concretely support it with information using techniques I have learned throughout my Colby-Sawyer Experience.