Capstone Workshop (PA 8081)

Academic Programs
Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Sarah French
301 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

The Capstone Workshop (PA 8081) is a 3-credit class that culminates a graduate student’s experience at the Humphrey School. It is required for students seeking degrees in MPA, MDP, and MURP and is one option for MPP, MHR, and MS–STEP students to complete the professional paper requirement.

Students form student-consultant teams of three to five during the Capstone Workshop to complete a substantive project in support of external clients from the public or nonprofit sector. These workshops are taught by, and the Humphrey School faculty supervise the projects.

For current students involved in a capstone project, view the 2020–2021 capstone timeline

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Capstone Workshop FAQs

Who is required to take the Capstone Workshop?
Humphrey School students in the MPA, MURP, and MDP programs are required to take the Capstone Workshop. It is optional for MPP, MHR and MS–STEP students, who can choose a professional paper or a Capstone Workshop.

At what point do I take the Capstone Workshop?
The Capstone Workshop is intended to serve as a culminating project to draw upon the knowledge and skills you have gained throughout your program. Most students enroll during their final semester; however, with permission of advisers and under certain circumstances, students may enroll before then. Part-time students or those who have transferred graduate credits into the program may also take the capstone earlier, under a recommendation by their advisor. Students in dual degree and certificate programs should consult their faculty and academic advisors to identify the appropriate timing for the capstone and to determine whether project-based courses in their certificate or other degree program meet the requirements of their curriculums.

When are capstones offered?
There are approximately 13 different Capstone Workshop course offerings at the Humphrey School every year, including one in the summer, with the majority of offerings in the spring semester. All sections require completion of PA 5080—a one-credit Capstone Preparation Workshop. (If you are an MDP student, this same prep course has the course number MDP 5100.) Students are encouraged to contact instructors to determine whether their capstone offerings would be a good fit for their interests.

  • Spring semester: Multiple sections of the Capstone Workshop are offered, each one reflecting a particular area of focus, based on faculty expertise and the traditional areas of concentrations associated with Humphrey School degree programs. Capstone teams may include a mix of MPP, MHR, MDP, MURP, MS–STEP, and MPA students.
  • Summer semester: The summer Capstone Workshop is open to students from all degree programs, but is popular for MPA students. Although only one section of PA 8081 is offered in the summer, there are a variety of client projects from which to choose. Project options are usually announced ahead of the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080), which meets in spring semester prior to the start of the Capstone Workshop. Teams for summer projects are announced on the first day of the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080).

When will I find out about what Capstone Workshops are offered?
Spring capstone projects are announced at the Information Session meeting, which happens in mid-September of fall semester. These projects are the possible options for the following spring Capstone Workshops. Students have the opportunity to review all of the projects and rank their top three choices. The capstone faculty review these choices and form teams. The teams are announced ahead of the fall Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080), which is a prerequisite for all spring Capstone Workshop sections.

Summer project options are usually announced ahead of the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080), which meets in spring semester prior to the start of the Capstone Workshop. Teams for summer projects are announced on the first day of the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080). 

Is PA 5080: Capstone Preparation Workshop (1 credit) required?
All capstone courses also require the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080), which is designed to provide students with a refresher on skills important to their capstone project work. (If you are an MDP student, this same prep course has the course number MDP 5100.) Focus topics include: problem-solving, research design, project management, group interactions, communications, and a critical framework to complete the capstone project. Students will work with their teammates to prepare a draft of the project’s plan, group norms, and a client memorandum of agreement. The Capstone Preparation Workshop is completed in the semester before the capstone itself. The Capstone Preparation Workshop for spring projects is held at the end of the fall semester preceding it. The summer Capstone Preparation Workshop is held three evenings late in the spring semester before the summer capstone begins.

What are the differences in workload between Capstone Workshops?
Each Capstone Workshop instructor manages his/her course differently. Some instructors require weekly meetings that may include lectures, discussions, and guest speakers. This approach allows the instructor to provide additional content knowledge and skills needed to complete the project. Other instructors simply meet with students weekly to discuss project needs and process. Instructors may also use additional assignments, such as case studies, literature reviews, and other activities to build knowledge and generate content that will contribute to the capstone project. Periodic reflection papers or online discussions may also be used to facilitate learning and explore professional practice topics. Typically, information about the structure of the course is provided via the Course Guide and capstone information session.

How much time is required for the capstone?
Typically, the spring capstones average six to nine hours per week, including class time, group meeting time, reading, writing, presentation preparation, etc. The summer capstone is condensed into a shorter time period and may involve more hours per week.

How do I know which capstone is best for me?
Capstone topics vary from year to year based on project availability, client interests, faculty capacity, and student enrollment in concentrations. We cannot guarantee that there will be a capstone that will be aligned with every concentration, but the topics available are diverse and offer connections to most, if not all, concentrations. Some capstones intentionally cut across concentrations. Additionally, students are encouraged to use the capstone experience as an opportunity to broaden their interests, explore a new topic, and engage with students in other concentrations and degree programs. Some capstone faculty members specifically identify capstone topics and projects to provide opportunities to address emerging topics or highlight issues not otherwise addressed in the curriculum. If you have questions about which capstone offering might be the best fit for you, please contact your faculty advisor or program director. Capstone course instructors are also valuable sources of information.

Suggestions for choosing capstones:

  • Consider times/dates of the offering and the content of the capstone offering.
  • Review individual capstone descriptions.
  • Contact capstone instructors for more detailed information or a syllabus.
  • Consider which client organizations and projects are the most relevant to your professional interests.
  • Meet with a professional academic adviser in Humphrey Student Services.
  • Meet with your faculty adviser.
  • Talk to other students who have taken capstones.

How will my capstone be evaluated?
Capstone project outcomes will be the primary basis for students’ capstone grades. Feedback is typically gathered via a review and survey completed by the instructor client. Student team members also have the opportunity to evaluate each other and the overall project outcomes.

Capstone requirements

  • A client agreement on the scope of work and project plan
  • Research and analysis related to the project’s stated need
  • Some faculty members require individual reflection papers on the workshop experience. The purpose is both to allow the workshop instructor to evaluate individual student performance, and to provide an opportunity for students to reflect intellectually and personally on the workshop experience, addressing: 1) the student's assessment of the relationship between the workshop experience and the theory and concepts presented in class, and; 2) the student's reflection on what he or she learned about working in a team context and as a professional with a client on a real world policy or management problem.
  • A team-written report for the client: The report to the client will conform in general to the definition of a professional paper. However, there is likely to be variation across workshop reports because the needs and desires of individual clients will differ. For example, some clients may wish to have students explicitly use theoretical concepts and frameworks in their final report, while other clients may desire more direct practical application. Please note that because reports are usually bound and made publicly available, client permission for disclosure should be sought at the beginning of the project.
  • An oral presentation to the client and capstone instructor that summarizes the major findings from the report: A successful oral indicates that both the client and the instructor agree that the student team has met the expectations agreed to by the client, instructor, and student teams. Once the student team has completed the oral presentation, the instructor and client will sign the title page of the team-written client report to document successful completion of the capstone workshop, professional paper, and oral presentation.

Capstone learning objectives and core competencies

Core Competencies

  • To participate in problem-solving and make institutional and societal changes in dynamic, uncertain environments.
  • To think critically, analyze complex public policy problems, and make recommendations to decision-makers using a wide range of analysis and evaluation methods.
  • To articulate the essential role of public institutions in democratic societies, including the significance of democratic values in the design and delivery of public services.
  • To understand conceptions of the common good, acknowledge normative and ethical viewpoints, and promote social justice and sustainability.
  • To communicate and interact productively within diverse and changing cultures and communities.

Learning Objectives
Course objectives will allow students to gain practical experience and reinforce learning, while developing a deeper understanding of:

  • Articulate a public problem/opportunity statement with a public/nonprofit client, and develop/manage a scope of work that supports the needs of the community client.
  • Prepare and execute a research plan to strengthen theoretical and practical grounding in leadership, planning, public policy or program analysis, and reflective problem-solving to inform action on a public problem. 
  • Collect and analyze data from a variety of research methods to deepen understanding of social conditions, and produce information and evidence-based recommendations that will improve understanding and enable effective public action. 
  • Communicate findings and recommendations—both orally and in writing—with confidence and professionalism to influence their decisions and inspire action that advances public objectives and interests. 
  • Work effectively with others with diverse experiences and perspectives to forge professional relationships with a community client and capstone teammates. 

Capstone courses (sample topics)

Spring Semester 2021
Social Policy
Human Rights
Global Policy
Program Evaluation
Leadership and Management
Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy
Urban and Regional Planning and Policy
Transportation Planning and Policy
Public Engagement
Development Practice

Summer 2021
Planning and Public Affairs

Capstone Preparation Workshop

All capstone courses also require the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080), which is designed to reinforce students’ previous learning on skills important to their capstone project work. (If you are an MDP student, this same prep course has the course number MDP 5100.) Instruction emphasizes: problem-solving, research design, project management, successful team interactions, communications, and a critical framework to complete the capstone project. Students will work with their teammates to prepare a draft of the project’s plan, group norms, and a client memorandum of agreement, as well as an assessment of the need for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval of data collection. The Capstone Preparation Workshop is completed in the semester before the capstone itself. The summer Capstone Preparation Workshop is held three evenings late in the spring semester before the summer capstone begins.

Title page guidelines

For guidance on formatting your professional paper, refer to this sample title page.

Documenting completion of professional paper

The capstone paper must be submitted to Humphrey Graduate Student Services so that it can be permanently housed in the University of Minnesota Libraries Digital Conservancy. Following instructions below, submit no later than the 20th day of the intended graduation month. Essential deadlines include:

  • Spring completion: May 20 (reminder: faculty may not be available after the end of May)
  • Summer completion: August 20

Students who do not meet these deadlines will not graduate until the following month, which, in some cases, could mean having to register (and pay) for something in the following semester.

There are two required components for submitting the capstone paper:

1) Digital Conservancy Agreement form (one form per group paper)

  • Download the Digital Conservancy Agreement Form, or pick up a copy in Humphrey Room 280.
  • The Digital Conservancy Agreement Form must be signed by ALL paper authors.
  • Attach the signed form to the beginning of the final paper. This form will be removed before the paper is uploaded into the Digital Conservancy.
  • Note: On rare occasions, clients prefer not to have their information posted in a public database. If this occurs, paper authors should still complete, sign, and attach this form with a clearly visible note that approval is not given to submit the paper to the Digital Conservancy.

2) Digital copy of final paper (one e-mail submission per group paper)

  • Title page of the paper must include: a) name of paper; b) paper authors; c) name of instructor(s) and client(s)—no signatures required
  • When the final version is approved by instructor(s), create a pdf.
  • Attach the signed scanned Digital Conservancy Agreement form (step 1) to the beginning of the paper.
  • Email PDF to [email protected] by the deadlines listed above.