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Capstone Experiences

Mercyhurst University guarantees that every incoming student who graduates with a Mercyhurst associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree will have gained real-world, outside-the-classroom experience in his or her discipline. These “hands-on” or applied learning opportunities, which we call capstone experiences, are part of the required curriculum for every student, in every major or program offered at Mercyhurst University’s Erie, North East and Corry, Pennsylvania campuses.

We believe that these capstone experiences add considerable value to any Mercyhurst University degree by enhancing each student’s job search, career progress or pursuit of further education following graduation from Mercyhurst.

Every academic program at Mercyhurst includes a capstone course as part of its curriculum. These courses are meant to provide students with learning experiences that replicate work that would be done in professional or graduate school settings, and allows them to build their portfolios and resumes while earning credit towards graduation. These guaranteed experiences, combined with other hands-on opportunities like study abroad and service projects, give our students an edge in today's competitive job market.

Applied Forensics   

  • One of the only programs in the country providing students opportunities to work with real evidence and human remains. Students learn osteology from the department’s large collection of modern and archaeological human remains. Donated remains are processed in our new autopsy-style lab and students have the opportunity to help process remains along with the faculty and graduate students.
  • Students also take part in crime scene processing classroom exercises and participate in practical labs through the department. These labs are designed to simulate real crime scenes and allow students to experience crime scene photography, blood spatter analysis, casting, and fingerprint identification and processing


  • Students participate in year-round research activities in in all phases of contemporary archaeological research. The Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute has conducted field and consulting work all over North and Central America, Europe, and the Near East. In addition, a variety of long-term MAI field and archival research projects are currently underway throughout Pennsylvania, Gault, Texas, Taos, New Mexico, and on the Isles of Scilly, UK.
  • Students conduct field work at the historic Meadowcroft Rockshelter site and the associated Cross Creek Drainage in southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Students have the opportunity to participate in a number of forensic cases that are processed by MAI every year.


(Art Education, Art Therapy, Graphic Design, Studio Art)   

  • Art education: Field observations and practice teaching are part of art education coursework beginning in the sophomore year. Art Education students observe and teach in a variety of museum, community, and school settings. In the junior and senior years, students gain additional experience with cooperating teachers in a clinical field placement during J-term and student teaching in the fall or spring terms. In addition to teaching experience, art education students also gain exhibition experience. Accomplished art faculty members guide and mentor senior students as they develop, design, and present their senior thesis artworks for display in a public exhibition held in the Mercyhurst Cummings Art Gallery.  Faculty work closely with students over the four years as they develop and refine a digital portfolio and resume to document and showcase their experience.
  • Art therapy: Students investigate the healing potential of the arts through art experientials, research, and service learning in the community. Each student will gain experience with chosen populations in community agencies and therapeutic settings. Required internships provide students with opportunities to experience 200 contact hours of professionally supervised practical applications of the use of art as a means to support others.
  • Studio Art: Students have numerous practical experiences in this dynamic hands-on field.  Students will experience both traditional and contemporary theories of art and idea generating methods with an extensive hands-on art curriculum. Working with accomplished faculty members as their mentors, each student will develop, design, produce and present their thesis artworks in a senior thesis exhibition held in the Cummings Art Gallery. A digital portfolio and resume complement this experience.  Other opportunities include outside-of-class activities such as field trips to local, regional and national exhibitions and workshops. These include regular bus trips to major art museums such as the Carnegie in Pittsburgh and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Studio Art students also have the opportunity to experience professional internships at regional museums and galleries.
  • Graphic Design: Students gain hands-on training and experience under the guidance of award -winning faculty with the most up-to-date software and industry standard facilities. Hands-on experiences include internships, portfolio development and projects for real-life clients through our many partnerships in the community. Students will experience both traditional and contemporary theories of design and idea generating methods with our extensive art curriculum. Graphic Design students and alumni have been consistently recognized by their achievements in the field at the annual American Advertising Federation Awards. Other hands-on experiences come from participation in outside-of-class activities including membership in AIGA/Ad Pro, professional portfolio reviews and trips to major art museums such as the Carnegie in Pittsburgh and the Cleveland Museum of Art.


  • Each year the department offers travel courses to a variety of unique field settings, including Tropical Marine Biology in the Caribbean Islands, Restoration Ecology in the Florida Keys, Environmental Physiology in New Mexico and Colorado, as well as courses in Ireland and the Galapagos Islands.
  • Students have the opportunity to gain clinical experience working in a variety of medical settings in preparation for graduate programs and careers in the health professions.
  • Students have the opportunity to utilizing cutting-edge equipment to conduct original research projects in the field and/or laboratory-setting and present their results at regional and national conferences, including Neuroscience, Integrative and Comparative Biology, The Pennsylvania Academy of Science, and many more.


(Accounting, Business, Business Competitive Intelligence, Economics, Finance, Human Resource Management, Integrated Marketing, International Business, Management, Sport Business Management)

  • Students choose real companies and conduct research and develop plans based on a real-world scenario. The best are submitted to the company executives.
  • Students complete internships in business, accounting, finance, marketing and sport management settings provide on-the-job training.
  • Business (North East)    
  • Students in the Operations Management concentration research our major local industry--grapes--including the agriculture of grapes, the winemaking process, manufacturing, bottling, and selling. Students visit a local winery and the Welch's plant to learn about operational challenges/strategies.
  • Students in the New Media and Business Administration concentrations work with local businesses to provide assistance in web design, video production, graphic design, digital imagery, and new media.
  • Students in the Sport Management concentration develop implement exercise regimens in preparation to take the Personal Fitness Certification exam, which is given at the end of the course.


  • Students begin working on research projects during freshman year, designing an individualized course of lab experiments, setting up data collection, and analyzing their results. Many of our students have produced work of graduate level/publishable quality. This is all designed to replicate what scientists and scientific educators do, and to complement their classroom instruction with real-world, “hands-on” science.
  • Students must also prepare a 20-30 minute presentation of their research as part of the Seminar course. This is excellent preparation for students who plan on graduate school and for those who want jobs in industry/government where they must prepare reports and seminars and be able to defend their work to their supervisors.


  • Strategic Communication course, where students work on teams to solve business problems for real clients through the development of strategic marketing plans;
  • Students plan and develop integrated marketing, advertising, and public relations campaigns, culminating in a trade show attended by the campus community, professional judges, and local media;
  • Professional Development course allows students to develop portfolios, practice interviewing skills, and learn about business etiquette and workplace standards;
  • Internships with approved regional, national and international businesses, industries, agencies, and institutions;
  • Practicum course, where students complete at least 45 hours of work with on-campus media and departments like WMCE-FM, LakerTV, The Merciad, and Marketing and Public Relations.

Computer Systems   

  • Students may complete an internship where they receive on-the-job training for work as a computer professional. Common internship sites include General Electric and Erie Insurance.

Computer Systems Support (North East)  

  • Students study how to integrate technology into business strategy and then work 20 hours with a local business to help the business with their technology needs.

Criminal Justice   

  • Students in the Criminal Justice Senior Seminar course integrate criminological theory, research, ethics, and policy by designing and engaging in a service learning project with a criminal justice and/or social service agency.  Students create and conduct a professional presentation about their experiences to the agency director and the class.
  • Students in the senior level Constitutional Law in Criminal Procedure course actively participate in a mock trial exercise where they take on the role as an attorney or witness in a criminal case.  
  • Students are highly encouraged to complete internships. A number of students have completed internships with federal, state, and local agencies to complement their concentration (law enforcement, juvenile justice, corrections, and pre-law).
  • Students in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency course are required to complete 12 hours of field observation with an agency that works with youth and juveniles.   Students also visit the juvenile detention center and the county courthouse where they observe juvenile court hearings.
  • The Criminal Justice Club sponsors trips to local correctional institutions and the Mercyhurst North East Police Academy where they use the firearms simulator for scenarios on "shoot or don’t shoot" the perpetrator. This exercise is connected with in-class use of force continuum information.
  • Students in the Mercyhurst North East criminal justice associate degree program can couple their degree with the Municipal Police Training Academy. Upon successful completion students are certified for entry-level positions as police officers in any municipality, park rangers, deputy sheriffs, security guards, and many other related positions in the criminal justice system.


  • The Mercyhurst Dancers, Mercyhurst Ballet Theatre, SoMar Dance Works and the Mercyhurst Liturgical Dance Ensemble offer four main stage performances in the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center.  In addition they present campus and community performances and lecture demonstrations and have toured regionally, nationally and internationally.  These four performing ensembles have presented in Atlanta, Austria, Australia , Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New York City, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with the American College Dance Conference, Ballet Maginificat! Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, The Sacred Dance Festival, Young! Tanzsommer, and Youth America Grand Prix.
  • Students are regularly introduced to renowned guest teachers and choreographers, and are encouraged to participate in theater and opera where dance opportunities are available.
  • Additionally, students who possess the talents for teaching/choreography may pursue those goals through teaching internships (MCDE) under the direction of our professionally seasoned faculty.  
  • The Senior capstone course, Senior Seminar, offers each senior the opportunity to work on faculty directed scholarly and/or creative research with mentorship  in performance, pedagogy, choreography and/or any specific area of the dance field.


  • One-on-one tutorial experiences with students in the local schools for Freshmen level courses
  • Small Group teaching experiences with students in the local schools for Sophomore level courses
  • Whole Class instructional teaching experiences with students in the local schools for Junior/Senior level courses
  • The Capstone Clinical is a full-time teaching experience, designed to prepare students to assume teaching responsibilities in schools.
  • During senior year, all Education majors must finalize their “Professional Teaching Portfolio” which shows their growth over time in preparation for becoming a teacher while attending Mercyhurst University


  • Every English major completes a Senior English Project, in which they produce a significant literary, pedagogical, or creative work.
  • English majors deliver public presentations of their scholarship locally (Senior English Project is a requirement for every student), regionally (graduate-level conferences), and nationally (Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society conference).
  • English majors with a concentration in Secondary English Education have teaching opportunities coordinated through Mercyhurst University to prepare for positions in classroom settings.
  • English majors taking creative writing courses (Introduction to Creative Writing and Creative Writing Poetry) have public readings of their creative works.
  • English majors with a Pre-Law Concentration have internships related to the legal profession.
  • English majors compromise the editorial board of Lumen, Mercyhurst University’s interdisciplinary arts journal
  • English majors with a Professional Writing concentration engage in local/community professional writing projects, as well as internships at local businesses and non-profits.
  • English faculty encourage our majors to take advantage of Mercyhurst’s Study-Abroad program.

Fashion Merchandising   

  • Product Line Development course, where students complete an apparel line consisting of six different looks
  • Internships with national and international fashion and design companies
  • Opportunity to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City
  • Professional Development course focuses on portfolio development, interviewing, business etiquette


  • Students enrolled in either the traditional History or History-Social Studies content area must take either a senior seminar course in which they produce a primary source-driven original work of scholarship; or they may pursue a Senior Thesis—also primary source-based, but on a topic of their own choosing.
  • A number of student theses have been presented at Phi Alpha Theta conferences (both regional and national). Our students have become perennial winners of their panels at the regional Phi Alpha Theta conferences. Many of our students’ theses and papers have been published in The Journal of Erie Studies and Visions and Revisions (an undergraduate research journal).
  • Students enrolled in the Public History Concentration take HIS 485, the Public History Senior Project. The project is completed throughout the student’s senior year.  It is designed to challenge students to apply many of the concepts, theories, and methods learned in the classroom together to produce a final work of scholarship that serves a regional institution.  Examples include: museum exhibits at local museums, outdoor historical interpretive signage projects, documentary films, and historical driving/walking tours.  
  • Students enrolled in any of the three core Public History classes engage in a community project.  Past examples include an exhibit on “the Lighthouses of Erie” for the Erie Maritime Museum, oral history project in Little Italy that was broadcast on local community television, and a photographic/oral history exhibition focused on historic buildings of Erie.
  • All students in the Public History program must complete an internship.  Over the past five years, institutions where our studentshave completed these experiences include: the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, the Petrie Museum of Egyptology in London, Gettysburg National Battlefield, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields, Fort Stanwix National Historic Site, Plimoth Plantation National Historic Site, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the Thomas Edison Birthplace and Museum, Preservation Erie, Erie Maritime Museum and the U.S. Brig Niagara.

Hospitality Management   

  • Students plan, prepare, serve actual patrons on-campus at Culinary Dining Series (both in Erie and North East).
  • Students work alongside real chefs and managers in our commercially equipped food service and dining facility located in the Center for Academic Excellence, NE Culinary facility and Lake View Country Club.
  • Café Diem Coffee Shop in the CAE building is run by students, with a HM graduate and current OL grad student acting as general manager; The café is a student-run operation with approximately 15 students on board as managers, purchasers, staff and food preps.
  • North East: Full-service culinary kitchen with restaurant experience at Carriage Way and Stone Chapel Dining rooms and Lake View Country Club.
  • By the end of senior year, students will have logged at least 200 industry-related practicum hours at Café Diem, catering events, service projects and department functions.

Hospitality Management/Culinary Arts (North East)   

  • Students will act as an executive chef to plan and produce a classic culinary menu and apply skills of menu costing, pricing, purchasing/purveying  and production scheduling. Students will then produce meals at two separate occasions with service to the public and evaluate all management aspects of the two events.

Intelligence Studies   

  • Capstone course in strategic intelligence gives students the opportunity to develop strategic intelligence projects for a real-world decision makers. In the past, students have completed projects for the FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Fortune 500 companies like Target and local businesses like Team Dispatch.

Interior Design   

  • Students spend three semesters working on a design project, then present and display their work in the annual Interior Design Senior Show to a jury of design professionals from the community.
  • Students can also complete independent study programs, working on projects for businesses and organizations.


  • The Topics in Mathematics capstone course provides independent study opportunities in the areas of Abstract Algebra, Geometry, Topology, Real Analysis and Complex Variables, which are desirable for any student wishing to pursue mathematics in graduate school.
  • Medical Lab Technician (North East)    
  • Students complete externships in various clinical laboratory settings where they will be able to gain valuable hands-on experience.


(Music, Music Education, Music Therapy, Music Performance)   

  • Seniors present a recital of music that represents the music they have worked on in their Applied Lessons.  Instrumentalists prepare music from all compositional periods; vocalists prepare music from all compositional periods in a minimum of four languages; student composers’ music is performed by students and faculty.
  • Every week all music students meet for one hour to perform repertoire in a recital setting. Interspersed with these recitals are master classes with highly regarded professionals. In addition to these, students are required to attend 45 classical concerts or musical events at the University, in the community or in the region.
  • Each year the music department students present over 70 performances including two orchestral concerts, three wind ensemble concerts, choral concerts, jazz ensemble concerts, a chamber opera which performs in New York City, a full length opera with orchestra and a musical with orchestra and student conductors.

Nursing (North East)   

  • Each student in the associate degree program is mentored by an RN in an area of the student’s choosing. The student is required to follow the mentor’s schedule and complete 40 hours of clinical time during the last 3 weeks of the term. Students gain a true comprehension of what nursing is really like, and learn to multi-task, manage their time, and remain flexible when unexpected events occur throughout their shift.
  • R.N. to B.S.N. students complete three 60-hour clinical practice rotations in a variety of settings: an affiliated community health setting; an agency dedicated to vulnerable populations, including low SES communities, racial and ethnic minority populations, and the uninsured, in which students develop and implement a health promotion program; and 60 hours of precepted clinical practice with a nurse manager/leader of a health care organization, whether acute care, chronic/long-term care, or community-based care.

Occupational Therapy Assistant-North East   

  • Each student spends 8 weeks in a clinical setting supervised by a certified and licensed OTA or OT. Students are responsible for establishing treatment plans for clients, executing those treatment plans and establishing a positive therapeutic relationship. The objective is to be ready for entry level OTA practice.


  • Every philosophy major completes a senior thesis by working closely with a thesis advisor on an independent and original research project, culminating in a thesis defense before a committee of readers.
  • Students regularly work as research assistants for faculty engaged in scholarship in philosophy or some allied field
  • Students can intern with the Evelyn Lincoln Institute for Ethics and Society or with an external private or public organization
  • Students organize and participate regularly in various events sponsored by the Philosophy Department, such as the Mercyhurst Interdisciplinary Student Colloquium, the Charlene M. Tanner Speaker Series, and the Scholars at Risk program.

Physical Therapist Assistant (North East)   

  • The program culminates in a final 6 week full time clinical experience where they are assessed in relation to entry level practice.  After this final clinical they return for PTA 214 professional issues seminar, which explores issues of clinical practice and preparation for the national exam.

Political Science   

  • Students conduct real-life public opinion polling through the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics state-of-the art computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) facility. The facility is comprised of thirty one interviewer stations and is staffed by well-trained student research associates, who use specialized computer software to conduct telephone interviews gauging what residents of particular geographic areas feel about a particular position or policy.
  • The Senior Project emphasizes political socialization and intellectual identity through a range of brief written assignments, designed to probe student beliefs and promote introspective reflection, culminate in a chapter length intellectual memoir produced by each senior.
  • Applied capstone experiences are tailored to student’s individual interests and ambitions.  For example, students interested in careers in education may serve as research assistants to members of the department’s faculty, while students interested in the law, applied politics or public service will complete appropriate internships.


  • Students complete internships with organizations all over the country, including Houston, Buffalo, Nashville, and New York City. Locally, students receive on-the-job training at places like Sarah Reed, Gannondale, Safe Harbor, Barber Center, Achievement Center, St. Vincent’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center, Erie County Jail, and Harborcreek Youth Services.
  • Students design and conduct independent research projects and present their research at the Western Pennsylvania Undergraduate Conference. Student projects and collaborative work with faculty have been presented at other regional and national conferences, such as the Association for Psychological Science annual convention. Psychology majors also have the option of completing a senior research project and can participate in active faculty research programs.

Public Health   

  • Students participating in “Lifelong Mobility” project in central Mexico, providing disabled children with mobility devices
  • Partnership with Erie County Department of Health for joint research projects, guest lecture opportunities, adjunct teaching appointments and student internships

Religious Studies   

  • In the Religious Studies Senior Seminar, each student applies knowledge from their entire Religious Studies program by completing a formal research paper, review of the scholarly literature, and research presentation on a chosen topic.

Respiratory Therapy (North East)   

  • Students complete clinical care rotations, with emphasis on critical care patients including advanced therapeutic and diagnostic procedures used by respiratory therapists. Students also take practice exams for the National Board for Respiratory Care Certification and the Registration Exams,
  • which must be completed successfully in order to complete the program requirements.

Sociology and Social Work

  • Social work students are required to complete a 500 hour internship in an agency under the supervision of an agency social work as well as the social work faculty field coordinator. The department has relationships with nearly 40 agencies and non-profit organizations where students regularly complete these internships.  As an additional component of the senior capstone experience, social work majors also develop a comprehensive competency paper which incorporates an active research project and policy assessment of their internship agency.  This process allows formal assessment of the required social work competencies that are established by the accrediting board of the Council on Social Work Education.”
  • Sociology majors can complete either an internship in a variety of work environments or complete a senior research project under the direct supervision of the sociology department faculty.  This active research is based on students’ specific interests and often include agency grant-writing, single subject (treatment) designs, program evaluation or program exploration.  

Sports Medicine, Athletic Training, Exercise Science

  • All students are required to complete real-life, hands on clinical experiences. These on-campus and off-campus clinical experiences will be supervised by allied health professionals that are working within the student’s chosen future career path. This supports the philosophy of knowledge without application is worthless to come to life and be of great benefit to the student.
  • The Sports Medicine department has contractual affiliated site agreements with local, medical facilities and active athletic environments which include three medical hospitals, two sports medicine clinics, two local colleges/universities, and numerous local high schools in the surrounding county.
  • Students are are required to complete a Baccalaureate Research project. This two-year research project is student driven with the guidance and assistance of one of the departmental faculty. The two departmental state-of-the art Human Performance laboratories are utilized by the students to gather their research data. These research projects have led to publication and presentation in regional and national journals and conferences.

World Languages/Cultures

(French, French Education, Russian Studies, Spanish, Spanish Education)

  • All language majors participate in an Oral Proficiency Interview with an external evaluator in the spring semester of their senior year. This results in an internationally-recognized rating of their skills in listening and speaking their language, which students can use on their resumes, and employment and graduate school applications.
  • Students complete internships tailored to their individual career plans, including teaching English as a Second Language and Life Skills to adults, working with immigration and refugee services, and translation.
  • A semester-long student teaching experience is designed to prepare French and Spanish Education students to assume full responsibilities in the classroom.