Student-Community Partnerships

Student-led research & technical support for community partners

Student-Led Research and Technical Support for Community Partners

In keeping with the University of Minnesota’s land-grant mission, the Humphrey School’s capstone program is one of the principal avenues for academic outreach and service to the broader community. Each year, the Humphrey School offers approximately 13 different capstone workshop courses and completes approximately 40 different capstone projects in support of community clients from the public and nonprofit sectors. 

Capstone courses are offered year-round, with one course offering in the summer semester, two in the fall semester, and approximately 10 in the spring semester. The topical focus for each course varies according to the expertise of the faculty, needs of the student, and requests from the community.

Capstone Student-Consultant Teams

A group of three to five graduate students serves as a consultant team for an organizational client. The student-consultant team conducts research, analysis, and delivers a final presentation and product to the client upon completion of the project. Throughout their capstone project, the team members interface directly with the client through a point of contact, where they develop a working relationship that is crucial to the success of the capstone study.

Capstone Clients

Clients are usually public or nonprofit organizations and are based locally, regionally, nationally, and around the world. Previous capstone clients include World Savvy, Advocates for Human Rights, Dakota County, City of Minneapolis, Little Earth of United Tribes, Minnesota Alliance on Crime, Minnesota Department of Human Services, Global Deaf Connection/Junior Achievement Jamaica, Charities Review Council, Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, North Point Evaluation Department, U.S. Department of State, Federal Reserve Bank, White Earth Nation, and Human Rights Watch. 

Capstone Projects

Typically, projects involve analyzing a public policy or management problem and often include a research component. The final products provided by the student-consultant team to the client are negotiated at the beginning of the study, but typically include a presentation to leaders from the client organization and a written product. Examples of completed capstone projects:

Capstone Faculty

Each capstone workshop is run by one or more professors who serve as teacher and coach to the student-consultant teams. Capstone faculty members are typically involved in the initial project coordination with the capstone client, in order to evaluate the validity of a capstone project proposal and establish the initial parameters and scope of the study. Throughout the project, the faculty member provides instruction and advice to students on completion of key elements of the study. They also contribute to the evaluation of the project deliverables and the quality of the team’s effort.

Development of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)

Capstone student-consultant teams negotiate a memorandum with their clients that defines a problem, project focus, scope of work, client and student responsibilities, and deliverables at the end of the semester.

Capstone Components

Visit this page to learn more about students' requirements, learning objectives, and core competencies for the capstone workshop.

Request for Proposal: Global Policy Project


The Humphrey School of Public Affairs (HHH) at the University of Minnesota ranks among the top professional schools of public affairs in the United States and is widely recognized for its role in examining issues, providing leadership and management expertise, and shaping policies at the local, state, national and international levels. Graduate students at the HHH are committed to public service, dedicated to addressing economic, social and political concerns throughout the world and are prepared with the tools and knowledge to develop, assess and evaluate approaches to current and emerging issues. Humphrey students may complete a Capstone Course as a culminating project for their master’s degree program. All HHH graduate level capstone courses are designed to mutually benefit the client, the community being served, and the students. The project team consists of three to five master level graduate students who address challenges and identify opportunities for a client organization or who conduct research on a pressing social, policy and/or development question of interest to the organization. Graduate students draw upon their professional experience and academic knowledge from content or issue areas, from key process skills including project management and teamwork and from various methods for gathering, analyzing and reporting data. The project team will approach the assignment with initiative and professionalism that results in a carefully considered final product. Faculty members will guide the research, writing, and presentation of the final product.

Timeline: Global policy and MDP capstone graduate students will be assigned to projects and form teams in the fall of 2016 and conduct projects primarily in the Spring 2017 semester, completing the project by May 2017.

  • September-October: Capstone projects selected and graduate student teams formed.
  • November December: Graduate student teams and capstone clients work together on a contract (memorandum of agreement) and team work plan. Students will prepare for the project (planning, research, skills preparation)
  • Mid-December to mid-January: Possible time period for preliminary research, especially if any overseas travel required.
  • January – April: Students will carry out project work
  • May: Students will submit the final product, including any written materials or tools, and a formal presentation; the client will submit an evaluation of the students as specified by both parties in the contract, and the capstone project will conclude.

All details and dates will be outlined in the jointly drafted memorandum of agreement.

Proposal Guidelines

Selection Process
Humphrey faculty teaching the global policy and MDP capstone courses will review all submitted proposals and select proposals that:

  • focus on a global issue;
  • have a clearly defined research question or policy project;
  • are realistic for the students to complete within the proposed timeline;
  • state clearly whether or not the students would be required to travel in order to conduct research, with full information on the length and nature of the travel.

Ownership and Use of Final Report
Unless otherwise agreed upon in writing, the graduate students and the client shall jointly own the intellectual property rights, including copyright, in the materials and any other intellectual property developed as part of the capstone project, as subjected to University of Minnesota policies. The students may choose to make public the project in the University of Minnesota Library Digital Archives, to share with prospective employers, and to make available for future researchers of graduate students undertaking similar capstone projects.

Students are not compensated for their work on the HHH capstone project for the client. In the event that any international travel is involved in the project, the client is expected to cover some of the costs or expenses. This could include transportation, lodging, food, printing, language interpreters or other agreed upon expenses. Expenses will be negotiated by the client and the student team in the contract.

The Humphrey School provides limited support to students for Capstone related travel.

Mutual Expectations
Successful capstone projects are grounded in good relationships between the client, the graduate students and the faculty advisor. Good relationships involve mutual respect and an understanding of the expectations of all parties involved. Thus, the following list seeks to outline the mutual expectations and responsibilities of the client, the graduate students, and the faculty.

Graduate students will:

  • deliver a work product that fulfills the project’s objectives and the client’s expectations;
  • bring commitment, energy, and personal areas of expertise to working on the project;
  • utilize the best of their abilities and experience;
  • engage openly and fairly with clients, faculty, other students and stakeholders;
  • be resilient and maintain a positive attitude toward unexpected challenges or project changes;
  • be the direct beneficiaries of the project.

Clients will:

  • prepare a concrete, feasible project proposal with well defined proposed deliverables;
  • provide a single contact/liaison person for the project;
  • support and communicate well with students and faculty;
  • mentor students and treat them as partners in the project;
  • allow revision of the project when necessary;
  • provide useful feedback during and after the project (used to inform project grades);
  • cover agreed upon expenses for students’ international travel/project costs, when necessary.

Faculty advisor will:

  • create a supportive and challenging learning environment for students;
  • build a well defined framework from which students will work that involves a set of class
  • meetings, activities and assignments;
  • offer intellectual and technical expertise, experience and referrals;
  • support the client as needed to make sure that the project progresses to a successful conclusion;
  • act as a liaison between the Humphrey School, the client and the students as needed;
  • facilitate opportunities for students to think about their project within the larger
  • international/global political/development/humanitarian framework in which it takes place;
  • provide helpful feedback and grade the project at its conclusion.

Please use the following template in submitting project proposals:

Proposal Application

1) Date
2) Name of organization
3) Address of organization
4) Name of contact person in your organization for the capstone project
5) Phone number of contact person in your organization
6) Email Address of contact person in your organization
7) Description of project

  • A brief overview of the issue that the proposed project will address.
  • An explanation of your organization’s mission
  • A specific list of activities the client would like the students to engage in (i.e., program evaluation, cost benefit analysis, data collection, financial analysis, research, planning)
  • Specific skills the client is looking for (i.e., foreign language proficiency, experience with specific software, statistics, evaluation skills, familiarity with the issue or problem)
  • Potential risks for the student (difficult travel, cultural or political sensitivities)
  • Stakeholders in the project (who is the project serving?) and whether these stakeholders, if relevant for the proposed project, may be vulnerable (e.g., refugees, victims of torture, children)

8) Research Question

  • The proposal should have a clearly stated purpose and research or policy question. This will focus the project and identify the scope of the work for the students.

9) Proposed Deliverables

  • The proposal should specify what you, the potential client, want to see in the final report. For example, the potential client wants a cost benefit analysis or recommendations on how to improve water resource management in rural villages.

10) Assumptions and Special Considerations

  • If the project will involve working with vulnerable populations, culturally sensitive issues, or challenging environments, this section serves as the place to explain these aspects of the project. In order to identify assumptions, some questions that you may want to ask are:
    • Is a language other than English required for fieldwork, research or information? Will a translator be required? What cross cultural skills are needed?
    • Will students need to gain access to restricted information?
    • Are there deadlines or timing issues that students and faculty need to be aware of?
    • Are there any extra expenses involved in the project, such as fees?
    • Will students have to make extra preparations for international travel such as vaccinations, special forms of documentation and/or visas?

    11) Evaluation Criteria

    • Identify how you will evaluate the students and their work after project completed.

    12) Audience

    • Identify who will use this report and how they will use it. For example, the report will go to the board of directors and be used to determine how the program is doing and how can it be improved.

    Request for Proposal: Program Evaluation Project

    Each semester, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota provides pro-bono services to public and nonprofit organizations in need of design work for program evaluation.

    A team of graduate students enrolled in a program evaluation course works with the client (nonprofit organization or government agency) to develop an evaluation plan that includes:

    • A narrative description of the program;
    • A logic model (specifying what the program or initiative does, what it hopes to achieve, and how stakeholders believe the program will lead to the desired outcomes);
    • A pragmatic evaluation plan outlining proposed/recommended data collection methods, time line, responsibilities, and a management plan; and
    • Data collection tools.

    If feasible, the students will field test at least one of the data collection tool and based on that test, revise the tool and summarize the collected data. Student will not have sufficient time in the semester to complete a full evaluation beyond this design. However, when completed, this plan and other products allows the organization to implement the design to answer its most pressing evaluation questions.

    If you have a need for such a service, please submit a few paragraph description to Professor Jodi Sandfort,, by December 1. She is particularly interested in working with Human Service organizations because of her leadership role in the Future Services Institute. Provide some brief description of 1) your organization; 2) the program evaluation need; 3) the potential contact person in your agency with whom the group might work. If selected, you will be asked to provide some program background information to help brief the student team. 

    If selected, there are a few parameters you should note.

    1) The preliminary meeting with your evaluation team will occur mid-February at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (301 19 Avenue South, Minneapolis, 55455).

    2) Prior to this first meeting, students will have read background information about your program and done some preliminary research about evaluations of comparable programs (to the extent this information is available). When we meet with you the student(s) will likely ask you clarifying questions about several aspects of your program including:

    • Who benefits from the program?
    • What do hope to ultimately achieve through this work?
    • What services are provided or activities initiated?
    • What evaluation-type questions do you have about the program?
    • How might evaluation information be used?
    • What information would be useful to know from the evaluation?
    • Who might use the evaluation information?

    3) Following this first meeting, student teams will be in contact with you or your staff members coordinating this project to seek input or additional information. They will coordinate this correspondence and will work with all the teams to ensure we don’t take too much of your time.

    4) Once students complete their work over the course of the semester, they would like an opportunity to present what they’ve learned. Please plan to join us for a final presentation of your evaluation plan in late-April. 

    Thank you for your interest. Your participation in this course assignment provides students with a valuable applied learning experience that will help develop their evaluation design and process skills. It is my hope that you also will gain a better understanding of the evaluation process, a narrative description and logic model that you may find useful in your work, and an evaluation plan that can be used for program improvement and communication with external stakeholders.

    Capstone Workshop

    Kevin Gerdes
    Humphrey School of Public Affairs
    301 19th Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55455