A capstone project is traditionally an end-of-term project that illustrates a student’s knowledge in their chosen field. At Seattle U, the capstone project is completed during a course dedicated to the project, allowing students an opportunity to really dive deep into the subject matter they find interesting and important.
Professor Kelli Rodriguez Currie, a Seattle University alumna, is the Director of International and Graduate Studies. She had the chance to sit down with Anne Bayerkohler, a graduate of the MLS program, for a webinar discussing the MLS capstone project. Anne is the Senior Director of Corporate Compliance at Coalfire and an adjunct professor at Seattle School of Law. Frank DiMarino, Principal Professor and Practitioner, joined them to provide insight into Seattle U’s capstone course. Professor DiMarino has taught the course in the past.
Professor DiMarino described the capstone course as an opportunity for students to reflect on their learning throughout the program. The capstone project allows students to integrate and demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained in compliance.
Benefits of an Online MLS Capstone at Seattle U
The capstone project from Seattle U’s Online MLS in Compliance and Risk Management is more than a written paper or an end-of-term project. What differentiates the MLS capstone project from components offered in other programs is that it grants students a dedicated opportunity to follow their passion. Students focus on a particular area of interest and the initiatives that are important to them. Professor DiMarino explained that the program’s professors assist by helping to mold the students’ interests and initiatives into innovative projects that contribute to the student’s professional portfolio and the compliance field.
The capstone project can be presented as a podcast, a website, a compliance tool, or a policy proposal. It can also be a scholarly paper or a business plan. Students have flexibility so they can create something that can have the most impact on a particular area within their concentration of compliance.
What Makes Seattle University’s MLS Capstone Course Stand Out
While capstone projects are customary for master’s programs, there are several ways that Seattle U’s course differs from other capstone projects.
A key differentiator of the program is that students work with industry stakeholders. An industry stakeholder is a specialist in the student’s area of interest. Stakeholders work with the students as a mentor to help guide them through the capstone project. Seattle University has a list of volunteers from the industry that the students can choose from, but they are also encouraged to expand their own professional network to find stakeholders they would like to work with.
Professor Rodriguez Currie noted a new development in the program involving stakeholders that will begin with the fall 2022 cohort. Before the capstone course starts, there will be a few sessions and networking opportunities with alumni and subject matter experts. This will help the students identify stakeholders earlier in the MLS program.
Emphasis on Legal Writing
Although the capstone project may be presented in various formats besides a research paper, legal research and writing skills will be incorporated into each project on some level and there is a strong emphasis on legal writing throughout the MLS program. The Analysis, Research, and Writing course teaches you how to conduct legal research and how to be more objective in legal writing. Professor DiMarino stressed the importance of clarity in legal writing. Students build that skill by responding to discussion questions. Students also learn a lot from their peers’ responses, including how classmates approach a topic in writing.
Professors offer advice on how to improve your writing when they review the discussion responses. This was helpful for Anne because she had to work at being objective in her writing. As a writer, she was used to emphasizing her opinion. But learning to be more objective helped her during the course and in her professional life.
Anne also noted the importance of learning the fundamentals of how sentences are formed and where they end when it comes to policy proposals. Anne had to relearn how to write in legal terms. Anne used this knowledge in her capstone project.
Professor Rodriguez Currie stated that the Seattle University School of Law has ranked in the top 10 best legal writing programs for many years. The capstone course also has a dedicated librarian and writing professor to assist students throughout the project.
Professor Assistance and Accessibility
During their discussion, Anne recalled her experience with the Seattle U professors and how accessible they were throughout her time in the program. She said she was able to reach out to the professors at any time for help. Professor DiMarino added that students in his courses have his cell phone number. They can text or call with questions or for guidance. Many of the students are on a first-name basis with their professors.
Anne’s Capstone Project Presentation
Although the capstone project is presented toward the end of the MLS program, Anne emphasized that students should begin planning for it early. She stated that as you move through the program, you start to figure out where compliance and risk management intersect with your particular interests. Honing your expertise along the way helps you select a topic meaningful to you and to decide how you’d like to present the capstone project.
A capstone project presentation is a way to demonstrate what you’ve learned about the law and how to apply it. Although Anne worked in compliance and risk management when she started the MLS program, learning how the law is applied in the field was new to her.
Anne was a student in the fall 2019 cohort, and as she progressed in the program, she became focused on privacy law. At the time, Anne had already been working from home for several years, so there was only a minor adjustment to online classes. However, her daughter was suddenly doing school online.
Anne felt that parents needed to understand their children’s privacy rights regarding their online education. She worked with her stakeholder to find the best way to help parents understand data storage regarding their children. Anne’s stakeholder helped her focus a really broad idea into something that could be easily accessed for reference and understanding of children’s rights. The result was a website that Anne developed called privacyhoarder.com, which was her capstone project.
Listen to the webinar recording to learn more about Anne’s capstone project.
The Value of Seattle University’s MLS Capstone Project
Professor Rodriguez Currie emphasized that the MLS program teaches students about more than the law as it is today. The skills learned in the capstone and other courses help students when rules and regulations change. It teaches students how to find, interpret, and respond to rule changes. The program equips students with the understanding of how changes to regulations could impact your organization in 10 or 20 years.
For Anne, the capstone course was more than a project. It had a substantial impact on her career. She said it changed her perspective from seeing quality and risk management as just operational and instead gave her an overall understanding of the bigger picture. Anne is now able to speak to her legal team and her cyber security team with ease. She sees privacy as being in the middle space between information security and legal. Her capstone project helped her to see that, and it changed the trajectory of what she does.
Depending on professional goals and interests, students in the fully online program can opt to focus on financial compliance, healthcare compliance, corporate compliance, or data and cybersecurity compliance.
The MLS program provides opportunities to solve problems through a legal lens and gain foundational knowledge of the law but without a Juris Doctor degree. It prepares graduates to lead compliance efforts in any organization, regardless of industry. Students graduate with a commanding knowledge of the law, legal analysis, and the frameworks used to identify, assess, and respond to risk. The program’s values-based approach moves beyond a narrow sense of compliance and helps establish a sense of equity, justice, and inclusion.
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