When you ask a question, you never know where the answer will lead. That becomes very apparent in talking with the students in Derek Wilson’s Capstone course. Students in this rigorous post-AP class take on the most challenging course available at GAC, one that prepares them to think and work as college students. They are required to think creatively, going beyond summarizing research to finding their voice and making their own discoveries in the process.
Focused on the intersection of the humanities, philosophy, and theology, students interact with materials both in the historical context as well in relation to contemporary issues. During the first semester, students engage with these topics in a seminar-style format while during the second semester, students research and write their papers. The culmination is a 15-18 page thesis which they defend before a panel of faculty members.
While their research odyssey starts from a familiar place, their inquiry often leads to new and surprising results. Students are inspired by their own personal passion about a subject, their cultural background, and heritage, events that have occurred in their lives, questions they’ve wrestled with personally, or family members who have gone through an experience. Some of the topics students in the most recent class are pursuing include: theology of mental illness; modern-day intersection of race and theology; Christian and Muslim faiths and recurring themes between the two faiths; black theology and the connection to hip hop; theology of second-generation Christians; cutting edge of medical ethics; and disability theology, among others.
As part of their coursework, students visited Emory University and gathered research materials at the university’s library. They developed proposals and presented them to the class, taking time to vet and critique each others’ proposals. Students work individually with Mr. Wilson during many conferences throughout the year and he counsels them on their topics and identifies potential pitfalls they might run into, helping them to strengthen their arguments. Over the duration of the semester, students submit approximately 7-8 rough drafts of their papers. Through the course, students develop critical skills such as vetting the credibility of research and researching more niche topics. These skills are paramount as they weed through the literature in order to flesh out their annotated bibliography.
When asked what he hopes the students walk away with from this course, Mr. Wilson says it’s to help them think critically about their faith, to see Christianity as an intellectual endeavor as much as a spiritual one, and to see the two as intertwined together. “I’d love for them to see that Christians have something to offer to the academic and intellectual community.”
With research questions as unique as the students themselves, Mr. Wilson is bound to have some interesting reading when the students turn in their papers in May. Until then, the discovery process continues.