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Skidmore College

Skidmore seniors creatively reimagine capstone projects

May 13, 2020
by James Helicke

Hannah Leffelholz’s dance capstone project evolved in ways she never expected.

After undergoing knee surgery over winter break, the senior dance and psychology double major developed an original piece of choreography that was supposed to be performed live by five dancers as part of the annual senior capstone dance concert this spring.

After Skidmore moved to remote learning as part of efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, Leffelholz found herself rethinking her project again — this time as a video, a medium with which she had no previous experience.

“I created this film that I’m very, very proud of,” said Leffelholz. “I am lucky because I almost have two projects that came out of this semester. I still consider the project that I choreographed at school to be a project in and of itself. The film was almost an extra iteration of it, but it was also something different.”

Across academic departments and programs this spring, Skidmore faculty have developed novel ways to showcase the creative work of seniors while maintaining close relationships with students — a hallmark of Skidmore’s educational experience.

A Zoom screenshot of the Philosophy Department's own version of Skidmore's annual Academic Festival

The Philosophy Department held its own online version of Skidmore's annual Academic Festival this spring.

Many departments, from economics and classics to philosophy and English, held their own online versions of Academic Festival, Skidmore’s traditional showcase of academic excellence.  Seniors demonstrated creative thought as they pivoted to confront challenges associated with social distancing measures designed to contain the coronavirus.

Leffelholz, who had been nearly finished with her dance capstone, envisioned her project in an entirely new genre and even learned how to edit video.

“I had to think of how to rework what I had when all of my dancers and I were in different states across the country and there was no way for them to perform it” onstage, said Leffelholz. “I really had to think creatively about how to morph it into something else.”

The piece is set to more ambient music than the original track and focuses on specific movements, since it was no longer possible to capture all the intricate, interwoven movements of five dancers at once. Even so, Leffelholz developed her video-editing skills sufficiently to present two dancers performing simultaneously on screen.

Leffelholz was not alone in seeing the capstone as an unexpected opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Classmate Matt Moriarty ’20, who has been accepted into a master’s program at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, welcomed the opportunity to create a video highlighting his work that he can use for professional purposes.

“Having the space of this remote learning environment has also led me to grow,” Moriarty said of the capstone experience. “I’d rate it an 8 or a 9 out of 10, honestly. The semester didn’t go as planned, but life never does.”

Both dance majors expressed appreciation for the efforts of Skidmore dance faculty who hosted a small, online gathering to celebrate seniors’ capstones.

“It was truly special to hear the ways in which they thanked the faculty and gave testimony to their growth as dancers, scholars and people,” said Debra Fernandez, professor and chair of the Dance Department.

Many other departments found ways to recognize their graduates in addition to the virtual Commencement ceremony the College will hold on Saturday, May 30. An in-person Commencement celebration will also be held at a later date.

“We decided to go ahead and hold a mini-Academic Festival for our two capstone classes,” said Professor of English Barbara Black. “We made toasts and students shared their ‘elevator speeches’ on their capstones.”

President Philip A. Glotzbach, who is retiring after this academic year, also participated in the English Department’s Zoom session and expressed solidarity with the unprecedented circumstances experienced by graduating seniors this spring.

“We made it clear to our students that the president was also ‘graduating’ from Skidmore this year,” Black said. “It was a very sweet and touching moment.”

Joerg Bibow, chair of the Department of Economics, said its Academic Festival brought a close to "a very challenging and unique semester."

"It is a proud moment because of the quality of work that was presented here," Bibow told economics majors. "It was no doubt very tough for our students, especially our seniors who were working on their capstone projects, the cumulation of their four years of study of economics, under these very special circumstances. Let me tell you that it was also very tough for your professors, who had to work very hard to make this happen."

The John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative (MDOCS) recognized seniors during its 2020 Golden Acorn Awards celebrating student projects this academic year. Seniors won eight of nine awards for projects, many highlighting creative responses to the pandemic.

For his capstone, psychology major Jonah Brenner ’20 worked with MDOCS and faculty in the Psychology Department to produce “Gender: A Kid’s Perspective,” which received the award for best expository documentary film.

Brenner, who also completed a minor in film and media studies, started his project in the fall and finished filming it before spring break.

"When we moved to remote learning, I was determined to remain on schedule," Brenner said. “Having support from Skidmore professors, the Psychology Department, MDOCS and my family is a large credit to the success of my documentary.”

Leffelholz said one of the biggest challenges for her this semester was finding the right title for her reimagined dance capstone project.  Eventually, she stumbled upon the phrase “Lingering Between.”

“To me, ‘Lingering Between’ relates to the idea that we’re in this sort of limbo state right now, not only with school, but the world is in this in-between state of not really knowing what’s next,” said Leffelholz, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work at Boston College this fall. “‘Lingering Between’ makes me think of the piece that I never finished, but this is also a very complete, solid project in itself.”

This article is part of the Creative Connections series, which explores the many unique ways the Skidmore community continues to connect in creative ways while learning, working and teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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