MPA Capstone Projects
All students graduating from the MPA program prior to May 2014 are required during their second year to complete a capstone project that draws on the cumulative lessons of their graduate experience. The project taps their knowledge, analytic abilities, writing and presentation skills, and the insights they have acquired through study, observation, and opportunities for direct involvement in the practice of public administration.
Students are encouraged to start developing their research topics the summer before their second year of study. Soon after returning from their summer internship and beginning their second year, each student submits a proposal for a capstone project that he or she will conduct during the fall and winter. Each project focuses on a current issue in the field of public administration.
A capstone committee, composed of three faculty members, is appointed for each student. The committee reviews the proposal, offers advice on the research design and feedback on drafts of the capstone paper, and accepts or rejects the final product. Acceptance by the committee is required for participation in the School of Government’s capstone conference, formally titled “Capstone Conference of Practical Research for Public Officials,” and for graduation. The conference is devoted to the presentation of capstone projects and is attended by faculty, students, and representatives of government and nonprofit agencies.
A student’s work on the capstone project is separate from and concurrent with the normal course load during the second year of study. Only the second-year spring semester course, Managing Public Policy, devotes class time to the capstone project. During the first portion of that course, students have the opportunity to critique one another’s capstone drafts and practice their presentations. Capstone papers must be thoroughly researched and conclusions solidly supported. The final paper must be condensed to five pages, requiring authors to distill key concepts and write in a concise style appropriate for executive and lay audiences.
Capstone projects must address practical issues in public administration and must do so in a rigorous fashion. Although variation is permitted, these projects commonly take one of four forms:
Analysis of a policy question with recommendations
Analysis of a public law issue with administrative guidance and recommendations
Description and analysis of a public management strategy, approach, or trend, with recommendations
Case study of an organizational issue with lessons learned and recommendations
The capstone project challenges students and tests their abilities. It has proven its value over and over again. For instance, many students have found capstone papers to be useful as writing samples in job searches. Some have developed substantive and technical expertise in completing the capstone research that proved instrumental in securing a job following graduation. Furthermore, recent graduates encountering similar analytic assignments on the job have reported tackling these assignments with confidence gained in their capstone experience. Occasionally, capstone papers have been published in academic or professional journals.