introducing… The Pleiades

I’m so excited to present my Capstone Project, an essay titled “The Pleiades.”

My experience in this class and working on this project has been a wild ride, and definitely a highlight of my senior year / college experience.

This piece has been evolving throughout my life; I’ve always been interested in my family’s history and I’ve always wanted to write something about it, but never quite knew what angle I should take.

A few months into this semester, the idea to tell this story came to me during a weekend visit home. I immediately changed my Capstone Project to what it is today, and I’m grateful for the serendipitous moments that led up to my lightbulb idea.

s o o o o o . . . here’s the link i guess . . . see ya college

syd’s declassified capstone survival guide

Hi future capstone peeps,

Whether you’re in a classroom in North Quad, a house in Ann Arbor, your childhood home, or wherever you may be, I hope you’re excited to take the Capstone course.

I’m turning in my project tomorrow (virtually presenting it on Zoom, to be exact), and have a few bits of advice to help you make the most of this class.

  1. Choose a topic you’re passionate about and figure out what it will look like later. You’ll have much more fun and get a lot more out of the minor if you’re excited about the content. For the first few months of the semester, I was working on my project a sluggish pace. I liked the aesthetic of my idea, but there wasn’t a huge why when it came to my project. Make sure you care about your why!
  2. Don’t be afraid to change your project. Like I referenced above, I switched my project pretty late in the game, about halfway through the semester. I was procrastinating on my first project, and randomly got an idea for a new project when I was visiting home one weekend. I wasn’t sure what my project would look like, but I had an idea of a story I wanted to tell and explore, which ended up elevating my writing minor experience. I ended up writing in a genre that I’ve always wanted try, but never really found the chance. I also conducted a lot of research because I felt that it was important to my project, so I felt like I fully developed my project in a way that I may not have otherwise.
  3. Utilize Sweetland Writing Workshops. I know they’re great virtually, and I’m sure they’re great in person, too. Ask your professor to recommend someone who has experience relevant to your project. It’s nice to have someone outside of class to help you with your project, and they’ll be hands on about editing with whatever type of feedback you’re looking for!
  4. More of a logistical note: when you’re in the workshop stage, make sure to take detailed notes of your classmates work as you’re reading it for the first time. This makes it much easier to give them valuable feedback.
  5. Have fun with your class!!! It builds up a layer of trust that makes the workshopping more fun and effective.

Good luck and if you ever have questions feel free to comment on this post and reach out!

some advice

Chances are, the semester you take Writing 420 will go by quickly. You might be thinking that “every semester goes by quickly,” but trust me: things will feel especially accelerated. That’s probably because you’ll be taking this course as part of your final semesters.

I hope that, by the time you read this, you’ll be able to attend classes in-person. I’m sure you can recall the uncertainty about the future all of us faced in mid-April. My final semester (Winter 2020) was already a bit bumpy as I was preparing for life beyond college, and, not surprisingly, a pandemic made everything a bit more complicated. The transition to online learning was smooth, but I found that the events happening as we moved online made focusing on coursework extremely difficult.

If your class is taught online, here are some things NOT to do. This is advice I didn’t follow, at least at first… (they’re not easy when everything is online)

  • Develop routines. Having a synchronous writing class helps with this… but only for two days each week. Try to develop some healthy academic (and personal!) habits and do them at specific times of the day.
  • Try to have a consistent sleep schedule. I had a week where I would just randomly sleep at different times (sometimes during the day…). That was not fun. And it wasn’t productive.

And, here’s just some general advice. So this stuff applies whether the course is in-person OR online.

  • Ambition is great. You’ll inevitably incorporate that into your schedule. This will cause it to be overly optimistic. Recognize that relying on contingencies is necessary when working with your project.
  • On a similar note, make sure your project goals are reasonable. Be ready to rewrite them if when your project changes.
  • Motivate yourself by engaging deeply with your classmates’ projects! I found this to be really inspirational when writing up notes for workshop days. The added bonus here is that your classmate receives higher quality feedback.

Finally, for your project, make sure that you choose something that you’re truly passionate about. I am sure your instructor as well as others will echo this advice, but it’s because it’s critical. When you’re passionate about what you’re working on, it not only becomes easier to find motivation, but also encourages you to more quickly adapt to inevitable(?) changes.

Thanks for reading and best of luck!

Going Remote (capstone)

For those who might be taking Writing 420 remotely (in no particular order):

  • don’t be afraid to use office hours with T! especially to get more one-on-one face time going remotely
  • be open and honest about where you are in the project, and if you feel like you need to say something or are worried about your progress, speak up earlier than later; you’ve only to gain!
  • keeping to a schedule is hard being remote; make plans and actually follow them. if you end up breaking the schedule, make new plans and follow those. if you end up breaking that, maybe you should talk to T, lol. don’t fall behind the best you can.
  • creativity & passion > grades
  • engage in class as much as you can; those 3 hours every week are only awesome if you’re an active player in them
  • likewise, make time to read people’s projects / works ahead of time and be ready to provide feedback; think about the level of respect & time commitment you expect others to have for your project
  • eat food, drink non-alcoholic beverages, have a dog on your lap; as long as you can focus and feel happy in-class, that’s positively infectious to everyone’s mood
  • where-ever you are, show your work / project to peers / friends / family as much as you can during times like this. get some feedback and have some fun with it
  • respect that mentors / consultants may not want to help you given the difficulty of remote interactions, but do not give up on the project itself
  • similarly, be ready for setbacks due to remoteness. if you have a project that might be hard to do because of remoteness, don’t abandon it (maybe now’s not the best time; maybe after class), but just be ready.

Can’t think of much more. Hope this helps.


On Screenwriting (Capstone project)

Password (all lowercase): miw

This has been quite the journey, both within this community and throughout my four years (and one more remaining) in undergrad.

I think my piece, site, and content speak for itself (as the image above shows), and I am not one to spoil. So, I have nothing else to say except…

Thank you. To anyone and everyone else, but amongst them all the Minor-in-Writing community for reintroducing me to writing as a passion, a life-long process, a medium of expression, an art, a craft… everything, truly!

And thank you, T and everyone in our Winter 2020 Capstone cohort, for quite the wonderful semester even despite the remote odds!

so thank you — thank you very much! 🙂


and also made this last night. might as well self promote lol


Since the beginning of the semester, my goals for this project seemed to have changed at least a dozen times.

The good news now is that I’m fairly certain on what I want to deliver: a collection of mockups for a number of different common mobile apps accompanied with some text focusing on the process. I think this will appeal to a wider audience than my original idea of developing design system guidelines.

Recently, I’ve been working on screens for a notes app, as shown to the left. And, rest assured, I have a list of others that I’d like to get to.

Thankfully, my work for this project can proceed with minimal disruption from the COVID-19 emergency.

I will have to adjust how I gather feedback a bit, but I feel much more motivated to push through now that my direction is clear.

Where I am—and where I’m (hopefully) going!

Hey friends –

What a crazy week. I hope you’re all doing well, and staying safe. I’m writing this post from the Law Library, where they have every other chair on top of the table for social distancing. I miss being in NQ with all of you, and am really looking forward to chatting with you next week on BlueJeans.

My project has evolved quite a bit since talking with you all last. To get you all up to speed, I’ve decided to change topics. As we listened to the former capstone students chat about their time in the class, I heard a recurring theme: “Make sure you are in love with—and totally invested in—your project. Your heart needs to be there.” I had fashioned a project about loneliness in the United States. I was intrigued by it because I saw it not only as a devastatingly sad issue, but also one that has drastic consequences. I had come to find that the effects of isolation are immense—both individually and collectively. But as I pondered it a bit more, and as I began to devote more brainpower to it, I could tell that something was off. And then it hit me. The words in class resonated perfectly. My heart wasn’t in it, and I thought I knew exactly where it might be: my dog.

To my mind, the general topic of this project will be—very simply—dogs. More specifically, I’d like to document certain people’s relationships with their dogs (what it means to them, what it provides, memorable anecdotes, etc.). I know it sounds a little vague, but stick with me. I’ll narrow the scope and provide a bit more background. The topline, over-arching question that will run through this project is:

(1) What is the inherent value that dogs provide in people’s lives? In other words, what benefits, if any, do they confer onto their “owners” or the people around them?

When I pivoted to this topic, I still wanted to stick with the podcast as my medium. The structure was going to be as follows:

(1) 4-5 podcast episodes with folks who have a dog(s)—and have stories that they are willing to share.

(2) Each episode will be guided by a set of interview questions (roughly seven or eight). These are, of course, the shell or outline of the conversations, but can be filled in with other tangents, comments, etc.

(3) The podcasts will be featured on my website under a tab entitled “THEIR STORIES”, and each sub-tab will feature their specific episode.

(4) In their specific pages, I will display not only an audio clip of their episode, but also a written transcript of our discussion. In this way, the viewer will have two options: to read the entire dialogue, or to more casually listen to it.

(5) These pages will also (ideally) feature photos of the individual and their dog.

(6) In addition to the “THEIR STORIES” tabs, this website will also feature “MY STORY” and “YOUR STORY” sections. The former will detail my story, with my answers to my set interview questions. And then the latter will offer the viewer the option of inputting his or her own story. They will be given a PDF document of the 7-8 interview questions so that they can reflect—or, perhaps, ask others around them.

Now that we are transitioning to online classes—and buildings/events are being shut down—I am thinking it might be wiser to stick to a written/non-audio project. I would still like to interview people, but getting in the podcast booth with them may prove to be a little tricky. With that in mind, I could still interview folks, and then transcribe their answers onto my website (similar to what Ashley did for her project).

I am fairly comfortable with this potential switch. If I were to do this, I could potentially feature a few more tabs on my website, aside from personal stories. As of now, I have 2 folks to interview (and am hoping for 2-3 more), and I have my interview questions set. I am looking forward to chatting with them next week, and then beginning to build my website. I’m really looking forward to getting these conversations rolling, and then to doing my own personal narrative/writing.

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you! And if you—or someone you know—has a special relationship with their dog, let me know! Talk to you all soon 🙂

Making Progress!

I started to really dig into my project over spring break last week. ICYMI, I am doing an oral history project, interviewing my two grandmothers about their lives up to this point.

Prior to spring break, I met with Ryan Wilcox of the Duderstadt Center and Yun Zhou, a Sociology professor who studies family and gender. Ryan and I met in the Dude and talked about the logistics of recording and editing, and he kindly hooked me up with some recording equipment that I was able to take home over break. Professor Zhou and I discussed oral history resources and interviewing, and she gave me some great ideas about how to uncover themes related to gender without trying to force it during an interview. She also recommended that I check out the author and oral historian Svetlana Alexievich, so I checked out one of her books from the library and just started reading it. 

Over two days during spring break, I worked with my Nana, who lives near me in Rhode Island. We went over my ideas for the project together and discussed the five single-spaced pages of questions I had prepared for our interviews. Instead of me asking her questions, we decided that she would gather her thoughts and speak to a series of questions in one longer answer, recording short narratives focused on different time periods or aspects of her life. This worked well! 

In addition to recording, my Nana shared with me some writing she had done in a memoir class about ten years ago. I convinced her to let me record her reading some of her writing for my project, which was great! She also shared notebooks full of journal entries and tens of thousands of family photographs, dating back to her and my late Grandad’s childhoods. It was really special to go through old photo albums and documents together. We have a pretty close relationship but working on the project really prompted her to open up to me in a way that she never had before. I think we both really enjoyed this time together!

I am feeling pretty good about my progress thus far. This week, I will get to work on editing and developing a framework for the website in preparation for my workshop next week. I have a ton of photographs and writing that I need to sort through, too. I’m excited to see things starting to come to life and look forward to hearing your feedback soon!

My Project

A lot has happened with my project since I last posted here. My idea has stayed pretty much the same, but I’ve gone through a lot of different ways to do this in my head, and I’ve landed on doing it almost the same way that I originally envisioned it. Sometimes that happens I guess!

My capstone project will be a photo book. I’m recruiting feminists around campus right now. The plan is then to interview each feminist and take their photo. I’m then going to compile those photos into a photo book and include their answers from the interview on the opposite page.

I talked to T about the best way to do this project. The reason I thought this project was a good idea now is because of the upcoming election and how people are really sharing their views. Even with groups like liberals and feminists, everyone is trying to say that their way is the right way. So, I’m framing this whole project now based on the upcoming election. I’d really love to see people’s different viewpoints and how the election is informing those viewpoints.

I’m very nervous about getting enough participants for my photo book! I’m planning on drawing on my communities on campus for students and faculty to interview, because I really would like this to be a project that represents as many people as possible on U of M’s campus. I really, really hope that people will want to be a part of this, because the photo book can’t happen if people don’t want to be.

Now, I just have to do even more research about photo books and feminism. After spring break, I’m going to start taking photos and doing interviews! I’m hopeful that this is going to turn out, but nervous that it won’t. I’m focusing on the positive now!

Blank Pages Are the Worst (And Yet, Pretty Exciting!)

Sitting down to write this blog post felt a lot like sitting down to work on my project: overwhelming confusion and frustration about where to start or how to phrase something or what even to write about at all, followed by a stream of words flowing almost mindlessly from my veins to the keyboard.

Followed, once again, by an overwhelming sense of writer’s block. đź™‚

But that’s ok. The good stuff comes from being patient. I definitely can’t call this blog post “the good stuff” (more like force-feeding the screen in front of me from what feels like an empty pantry), but I do believe that my project, at least, is getting some of that odd, trance-like magic.

When writing my last blog post, my project was still in the very early stages – having barely even been conceived of, much less fleshed-out. To use a metaphor, it was still that unformed ball of cells growing in the mother’s womb. But now it’s been a few weeks, and I actually think it’s got some limbs and a heartbeat! Exciting stuff!

So, like the technician doing the ultrasound, let me explain what you’re looking at:

I’m planning to write about five “memoir essays,” which can be thought of as a hybrid of memoirs and personal essays. In my five memoir essays, I will use creative nonfiction to tell stories from my own life (memoir), then give them a little spin toward the end so that the audience can walk away with something more than just a random story from some random person’s life (kind of personal-essay-ish).

While my goal is to write five stories, my workshop members advised me to write what feels right, without worrying about achieving an exact number of stories, so my plan may yet change and grow into something slightly different than the plan I am laying out now.

For instance, while I have already created outlines for five stories I might want to tell, I am significantly more passionate about three of them compared to the other two. As such, unless I come up with ideas for different stories to tell, I may need to adjust this aspect of my project.

For the three stories that I am passionate about, however, things are going pretty well! I have already drafted the first third of a story that explores grief and loss, and I’ve made attempts at starting two other stories – one that explores relationships/singleness and another that explores health/mortality/the unexpected.

I foresee a couple concerns with being as vulnerable as I want to be in my stories and with discerning if the story I am writing will have the same impact to someone who didn’t live it as I did, but that’s why I have mentors and classmates!

So, what’s next?

In the coming weeks, I plan to continue my research, meet with my mentor(s), and undergo a workshop to get feedback. I will also be writing a lot more (hopefully creating complete rough drafts of each of the stories I plan to tell) and thinking a lot more about what I want to write and how I want to communicate my ideas. Furthermore, I will need to explore and challenge my own sense of self to hopefully push beyond any hesitancies in vulnerability to create a collection of writings that are as honest and powerful as possible.

If all goes well, I won’t have many blank pages for long, and that provides at least some relief.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for my next post!