Capstone Workshop (PA 8081)

Capstone Workshop
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 degrees, and is one option for MPP, MHR, and MS–STEP students to complete the professional paper requirement.

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

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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, two in the fall, and the majority of offerings in the spring semester. Most sections require completion of PA 5080—a one-credit Capstone Preparation Workshop. The online Course Schedule depicts which Capstone Workshop courses also require completion of PA 5080. 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, MURP, MS–STEP, and MPA students. MDP students also enroll in their Capstone Workshop course this semester; however, their projects are exclusive to their program.
  • Fall semester: Typically only two sections of the Capstone Workshop are offered in the fall semester, and the focus of the fall capstones are very specific. Capstone groups may include a mix of MPP, MHR, 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 presented during the Capstone Preparation Workshop (PA 5080) which meets in spring semester prior to the start of the Capstone Workshop.

When will I find out about what Capstone Workshops are offered?
There are multiple ways that information about upcoming Capstone Workshops is shared. Some information is available in the online Course Guide and registration system. Additional information is often sent by email. In addition, a Humphrey School capstone information session is typically held towards the end of the fall and spring semesters, as a means of sharing information about upcoming capstone opportunities. A summary of information provided at this session is circulated by email as well. While it is possible that information about capstones may be available earlier in the preceding semester, it is typically difficult for instructors to finalize projects and clients before this time. Clients can often be hesitant to commit too far in advance, as project needs and staffing may change. Furthermore, the number of projects that can be offered in a class is dependent on the number of students that enroll.

Is PA 5080, Capstone Preparation Workshop (1 credit) required?
Most 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. 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 typically completed early in the same semester as the capstone itself. The summer Capstone Preparation Workshop is held three evenings late in the spring semester before the summer capstone begins. There are a couple of capstone courses that are completed over two semesters. These courses will be noted in the course description on the Course Guide. It is also important to note that PA 5033 or equivalent is a prerequisite for the fall semester Capstone Workshop with Morris Kleiner.

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 fall and 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 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, policy-making, and institutional and societal change in dynamic, uncertain environments
  • To analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve complex problems, and make decisions informed by quantitative, qualitative, economic, and other methods
  • To articulate the essential role of public institutions in democratic societies and the importance of democratic values in delivery of public services
  • To understand conceptions of the common good, acknowledge normative and ethical viewpoints, and promote social justice.
  • To communicate and interact productively with individuals in 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:

  • Defining and redefining a problem/opportunity statement with a public/nonprofit client, and developing related research questions to orient the study. 
  • Preparing and executing a research plan or scope of work to strengthen theoretical and practical grounding in leadership, public policy analysis, and reflective problem-solving to inform action on a public problem. 
  • Collecting and analyzing 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. 
  • Communicating findings and recommendations—both orally and in writing—with confidence and professionalism, to influence their decisions and inspire them to take action that advances public objectives and interests. 
  • Working effectively with others with diverse experiences and perspectives, to forge professional relationships with a governmental or nonprofit client and capstone teammates. 

Capstone courses (sample topics)

Fall Semester
Public Affairs and Policy 
The Federal Reserve Bank and Related Policies

Spring Semester
Education Policy and Reform
Equitable Neighborhood Development
Evaluating Homelessness Policy and Practices
The Future of Election Administration in Minnesota
Planning and Public Affairs
Global Public Policy
International Development
Early Childhood Education and Development
Transportation and Community Impacts
Energy and Environment
Participating in Policy and Planning

Leading Organizational and Community Change

Capstone Preparation Workshop

Most 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. 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 typically completed early in the same semester as the capstone itself. The summer Capstone Preparation Workshop is held three evenings late in the spring semester before the summer capstone begins. Courses requiring PA 5080 will be noted in the course description on the Course Guide. 

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:

  • Fall completion: December 20
  • 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.
  • Digital Conservancy Agreement Form must be signed by ALL paper authors.
  • can and 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.