Coming in to Concordia four years ago, I had been told many times and was aware of how great of a school it was. I knew I would come out of my undergrad with a good education, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into and the amount of work (and tears) it would take. I’ve had the entire day after graduation to reflect on my experiences, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my “capstone” course, neurochemistry.
Every student must fulfill their capstone requirement by the time they graduate. The purpose is to partake in a course or an internship that challenges you to learn new material while connecting with everything else you’ve studied prior. There are specific outlined goals for the capstone to accomplish this, and I think it would be a good idea to run through them before continuing:
- Instill a love for learning
- Develop foundational skills and transferable intellectual capacities
- Develop an understanding of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and intercultural perspectives and their connections
- Cultivate an examined cultural, ethical, physical, and spiritual self-understanding
- Encourage responsible participation in the world.
Neurochemistry was not necessarily an easy course for me. The chemical pathways did not make sense right away, the papers were long and filled with terms and abbreviations I had never seen before, and I am not typically the most outspoken student in any classroom. However, I would not consider it as the hardest course I have taken at Concordia, either, as I had expected it to be. Especially by the time I had adjusted to the setup of the course, it did not quite meet the expectations I had for the infamous capstone experience.
The first couple of weeks were designated for gaining a basic understanding of cellular signaling and basic neurochemical pathways. This was honestly the most difficult part of the course for me, due to the fact that I had never taken any neuro courses before, and a lot of the concepts were fairly new to me. Once we got down some of the basics, we moved on to focusing on a single topic each week. Topics ranged from eating disorders to concussions to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Prior to meeting on Monday, we were assigned to read the assigned article and come prepared with a summary and questions. After discussing our initial thoughts on Monday, we would each choose a subtopic to research that was either confusing or was something we wanted to know more about. On Wednesday, we would share our findings with each other one-on-one in a “speed-dating” fashion. Friday’s were dedicated for discussion on what we had learned and how the issue affects our society, and we would start the whole process over for another topic the next week.
While this setup did not challenge me as much as I was expecting, I feel the course more than fulfilled the outlined requirements I listed earlier for a capstone.
The most unique thing about neurochemistry is that we did not just learn about the neurochemistry of whatever disease we were focusing on. We would challenge each other to think about other issues related (directly or indirectly) to the topic. This gave new perspectives on the topic that made me eager to learn more like no other class has done before. I also simply just noticed myself wanting to learn more about mental health and related disorders as the semester progressed. Not that I had much free time to spare, but I would choose to look up and research something over my actual homework and studying (oops). I was also challenged to express my thoughts and contribute to class discussion daily. My communication skills, as well as my self-confidence, drastically improved, allowing me to share my knowledge with others more effectively. I was challenged to think outside of my comfort zone, prompting self-reflection on how I was interpreting the presented information and how it could be interpreted differently. Our final project, a seminar on eating disorders among college student athletes, gave me the opportunity to reach out to the public to raise awareness on an issue affecting our campus. The goal was to take our knowledge and share it in a way that a general audience would be able to understand. Our communication skills and our creative thought processes were deeply challenged and cultivated in that experience, but we were able to start a conversation among our community that we hope to keep alive.
I could go on forever about the ways neurochemistry has impacted me. Listed above are just a few important examples illustrating the invaluable experiences I gained. I learned so much about the neurochemistry driving certain disorders and diseases, but I learned even more about myself and how to think outside of my comfort zone. So I will say it again – my senior capstone course was not my most difficult course by any means, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t gain anything valuable from the experience.