What is an SMP?
The St. Mary’s Project (SMP) is a year-long, 8-credit, capstone of study at St. Mary’s. SMPs are an independently designed and executed course of study. Working in close conjunction with one or more professors, in or outside of the department, students have the opportunity to explore, in depth, a question or idea that entrances and intrigues them. An SMP may take the form of a research paper or a creative expression of the arts. It may include collaborative work and build upon components of internships, study-abroad programs, and other experimental formats, as well as traditional research skills. The College has established certain guidelines for the SMP:
The College has established certain guidelines for the SMP:
- It must be student-initiated
- It must demonstrate methodological competence (by identifying an area to be explored and proposing a method of inquiry appropriate for the topic)
- It must draw on and extend knowledge, skills of analysis, and creative achievement developed through previous academic work. It must include a reflection on the social context, the body of literature, or the conceptual framework to which the project is a contribution
- It must be shared with the larger community through some form of public presentation.
Goals of an SMP:
- Initiate, develop, and complete a significant eight-credit project, usually over the course of two semesters.
- Reflect critically and thoughtfully on fundamental questions, important thinkers, or particular local, regional, or global issues.
- Show competence in a relevant body of literature and/or research, and show awareness of the social context to which the project contributes.
- Demonstrate methodological and disciplinary proficiency, as defined in consultation with his or her SMP mentor.
- Develop verbal presentation skills and shares their projects publicly twice: in the first semester as a work-in-progress and as a final product during SMP Presentation Day.
First year students and sophomores:
- Consider your interests and keep track of favorite and interesting topics
- Don’t be too specific, keep it broad
- Talk to friends and seniors doing projects.
- Attend SMPs and look over the archives
First semester of junior year:
- Consider whether you want to collaborate with others. Note that collaborating with students will not necessarily make your work load easier
- Think about whether you want to do the project in two 4-credit blocks or employ some other sequence
Second semester of junior year:
- Narrow your choice to one or two topics
- Discuss and develop your topic ideas with faculty members who might be good mentors.
- Talk to the St. Mary’s Career Center if you want to include an off-campus component to your project.
- Decide if you will be collaborating with a fellow student.
- Have a good idea of what you want to do by advising day.
- Select a faculty mentor in the spring semester.
- Submit a formal proposal
- Work closely with your faculty mentor.
- Submit the budget request form by late October (option to resubmit in March).
- Complete research, hands-on experience, written essay, or poster.
- Present in the Spring semester
How to choose a topic
- What areas of philosophy and religious studies interest you?
- What are your career interests?
- Do you want a project to include specific experiences such as doing an off-campus internship or conducting on-site research?
- What was your favorite class and why?
- Would a topic from a class be something you would like to pursue further?
The proposal developed in the proseminar is not merely a proposal for an SMP that the student might do, or can imagine doing—but will do. To complete an SMP in Philosophy or Religious Studies, you must complete an SMP Proseminar (RELG/PHIL 492).
The proseminar is a one-credit course that meets five or six times over the spring semester before the initiation of a St. Mary’s project (usually the spring of a student’s junior year).
It is designed to aid the student in producing a well-crafted proposal for an SMP that meets the requirements of the College and the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. The SMP proposals are then circulated to the faculty in the department for the purpose of assigning students to mentors to begin the SMPs. Students who expect to be away from SMCM during the spring of their junior year may have the proseminar requirement waived by either:
- Completing the work for the SMP Proseminar in the fall prior to that spring with the assistance of a faculty member in the department,
- Completing the work for the SMP Proseminar during the spring semester abroad, by remaining in regular contact during the spring with the instructor of PHIL/RELG 492.
Students who plan to begin their SMP in a spring semester should complete the work for the SMP proseminar in the fall prior to that spring.
Proposing an SMP
An SMP proposal that has the potential to be acceptable to the departmental faculty should include the following information:
- a working title
- for research papers, a thesis statement; for other SMPs, a statement of the project’s objective
- a narrative proposal of 700-1000 words describing your SMP
- for research papers, a working table of contents for the project; for other SMPs, an enumeration of the components of the project. (That is, what are the likely chunks?)
- for research papers, a bibliography of likely sources*; for other SMPs, a list of resources needed (e.g., materials for interviews, permissions from public schools)
- a tentative syllabus of your work plan for your first semester (Week-by-week), including proposed readings and expected writings; for SMPs with an applied element, the sequence of activities should be included.
- Your preference for faculty mentors. (And you should have spoken to these people by the time you complete your proposal.)
*You don’t have to have read thoroughly all the sources in your bibliography, but do not merely list sources that look from their titles as though they’d be relevant. Skimming is what you should be shooting for. To include what’s going to turn out to be irrelevant is just to leave yourself more work to do later, as well as to show how underdeveloped your proposal is. Also, any archival material needs to be (a) accessible to you and (b) in a language you can read.
Suggested Types and Examples of Projects
The following examples and project types are intended to stimulate ideas but are not meant to be restrictive:
- Library research, analysis, and critical evaluation of particular philosophical thinkers or religious systems of thought. (For instance, Martin Buber’s theory of ideal (I-Thou) human relations, Freudian analysis of rituals, Heidegger’s thought on the meaning one’s own death, or ecofeminism).
- Engaging with other disciplines: A philosophical analysis of the work of someone such as an economist, poet, or sociologist.
- Designing a performance that has links to religious or philosophical issues
- A community service project that draws on research and involves critical analysis and reflection. (For example, teaching a unit on “philosophy for children” or on “non-violent conflict resolution” in the local school system; Serving as a hospice volunteer and reflecting on the nature of death and religious death rituals).
- Research and reflection on a local issue that has links to religious or philosophical issues–e.g., the history of traditionally Black churches; environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay Area or St. Mary’s College sexual assault policy.
- Reflective papers based on surveys and interviews with people about their ethical or religious ideas on drugs, death, the good life, etc., including knowledge of related secondary research.
- Research and reflection of topics pertaining to international study tours or study abroad experiences –e.g., engaged Buddhism in Thailand, Muslim perspectives on AIDS in the Gambia, coming of age rituals in India.
Components of a Completed SMP:
All projects involve writing, whether library research, creative writing, interviews, or reflection on some applied practice in which the student has participated.
For SMP’s having an applied component, writing is but a portion of the project. For others, writing is the entirety. Those electing projects consisting entirely of writing should normally aim to complete no fewer than twenty-five pages of writing in the first semester of the SMP; any more detail than that needs to be worked out between the mentor and the student. The SMP is the equivalent of two upper-division seminars, and the first semester tends to involve more research and less writing than the second.
Students failing to secure a grade of at least a C- in the first semester of the SMP (PHIL 493 or RELG 493) will have to re-take 493 in the subsequent semester, and can take 494 either concurrently or in the semester after that. (This latter choice would usually require delaying graduation.)
Mid-term poster presentation during the penultimate semester. The poster will communicate the project’s nature (including thesis statement and projected table of contents), methods, bibliography, progress to date, and outstanding work.
Final presentation, the nature and venue of which will be agreed upon by the student and his or her mentor. Presentations held during the departmental SMP Presentation Day will be attended by the SMP mentor and two other faculty members, one reader and one respondent. (The respondent has deliberately not read the SMP, but has been present at the presentation.) The reader and respondent will confer with the mentor about the grade of the final product of the SMP (as distinct from the component of the grade for the year-long process of carrying out the project).
Alternative Capstone Experience
Philosophy majors must complete a St. Mary’s Project. Students who complete an SMP outside of the philosophy department must complete eight additional credit hours chosen from any 300- or 400-level philosophy courses listed in the College catalog, in addition to the courses used by the student to satisfy the requirements of the philosophy major. After consultation with the department chair, a reduction of four or eight credit hours may be granted for SMPs with substantial philosophical content.
Religious Studies majors must complete a St. Mary’s Project. Students who pursue a St. Mary’s Project outside of religious studies must take one additional elective (four credit hours) in religious studies at the 300-level or higher. With prior approval from the department chair, cross-listed and other upper level courses on religion from outside the religious studies offering can be counted as electives.