the Come Alive Program:

a philosophy and approach to innovation and collaboration in academic program development

by David R. Stefan, Ph.D.


“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. 

Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.

Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

                                    - Howard Thurman

My approach to educational program development can be best described and illustrated through one of my past successes as a program development and academic affairs specialist.

Over fifteen years in higher education administration, the focus of my efforts found their greatest fulfillment in the development of a comprehensive academic core curriculum called CAPstone; the Come Alive Program helped students build a portfolio of key assessments, learning experiences, mentoring contracts, and writing samples, and then imagine and complete a pinnacle project. 

As the chief administrator, I initiated and facilitated the program development, which invited faculty, staff and students into a creative brainstorming and strategic planning process based on the Deep Dive methodology of the design firm, IDEO. 

In the following description, I outline components of the CAPstone development process and programmatic features while highlighting foundational principles of my educational and program development approach.

Educational program development is an imaginative process. It is said that Thomas Edison took a half hour after lunch to forecast his own future by envisioning himself on stage, stepping forward and announcing to a large audience a discovery that would improve the entire human race. 

An effective cooperative educational program development experience, like CAPstone, helps faculty, staff, and students imagine what could be, to come alive to their roles and contributions, and to construct and fulfill an extraordinary program experience that ultimately serves the world in a unique and meaningful way. 

Program development is a shared/collaborative process. The core curriculum of the CAPstone series from the outset was an ongoing conversation between students, staff, and faculty. While I initiated the development process, student discussion groups and faculty brainstorming sessions informed and refined the core principles and structure of the program.  

Many institutions use the terminology of a capstone course to describe the final integrative project. This CAPstone, however, was integrated throughout an eight-course sequence, extending over four years of the curriculum.  

The initial phase of the CAPstone program focused on introducing students to and helping them identify and develop their passions, vocations, and callings. Through a series of four courses, students were exposed to personality tests and measurements, encouraged to share their personal journey through team interaction and journaling, taught essential skills of innovation, imagining and brainstorming, and were connected to their first of many mentors, a faculty member.  

Program development is an ongoing dialogical process. Educational program development is a conversation, an extended interaction between people, research, and within ourselves by integrative self-dialogue.  

Another core objective of the CAPstone process familiarized students with group dynamics and teamwork. Students worked through personality profile assessments, principles of team building, group dynamics, conflict management, and common group dysfunctions. The second phase of the mentoring process involved recruiting peer mentors.  

Educational program development is a holistic process. Effective program management engages the whole person—mind, will, emotion, learning styles, and personalities.  The creative and implementation processes of the CAPstone program were infused with exercises and experiences that catered to the full spectrum of learning preferences. In sync with Bernice McCarthy’s philosophy of learning, courses integrated Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation. 


A central feature of CAPstone was the “Concentration Practicum,” which incorporated the CAPstone program into the student’s field of specialized study while providing practical forums on career development, internships, and the final CAPstone project implementation. Field mentors were also introduced at this point. 

Program development is an experiential/evaluative process. As the students completed internships, their final year of the CAPstone curriculum was dedicated to designing and implementing a senior project. The last CAPstone course provided students with an opportunity to present to their peers, mentors, course instructor, and department heads. This step also included an opportunity to receive critical feedback and tools with which to assess the success of the student project design as well as the effectiveness of the CAPstone program as a whole.