Overview

SIPA Capstone workshops apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge learned at SIPA to a real-world issue. Students from the Masters of International Affairs and Masters of Public Administration degree programs are organized into small consulting teams (generally about six students per team) and assigned a substantive, policy oriented project with an external client.

The collaboration between SIPA students and the organizations benefits both parties. The organizations benefit from the expertise of SIPA students, who have a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds and who are in the final semester of a demanding, two-year professional degree program at one of the leading schools of international and public affairs in the world. All student teams are advised by a SIPA faculty member with relevant expertise. The students benefit from the opportunity to put learning into practice.

Capstone Workshop Clients and Projects

Clients include public agencies (from the local to national level), international NGOs and multi-national organizations, and major firms in the private sector—recent examples include Barclays, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Mercy Corps, New York City Mayor’s Office, the United Nations and the World Bank Group. Student teams, working under the supervision of a faculty expert, answer a carefully defined problem posed by the client. Each team produces an actionable report and an oral briefing of their findings at the close of the workshop that is designed to translate into real change on the ground.

For the full directory of projects, please see the Capstone workshop directory here.

Timeline

We seek to partner with organizations that can offer a project that is timely, but not urgent, which can be completed within a four-month period, that is of value both to the organization itself and to the learning experience of students.

Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss project ideas with Suzanne Hollmann, the Capstone Program Director, before submission of a proposal. Applicants will be notified by the end of September about whether their proposal has been selected for further development. Applications received after July 31, 2017 will be considered on a rolling admissions basis. Priority will be given to applicants who have submitted before the July deadline.

During the summer, we will match clients with expert faculty advisors who will work with the client to further refine the project scope and deliverables. In October, students submit a formal application to the Capstone program, rank ordering their first through fifth choice. Students are selected by the faculty advisor and are matched with projects based on their demonstrated skill sets and interests. The actual workshop is conducted in late January to early May.

View the Spring 2018 Recommended Timeline

Deliverables

Supported by a Columbia faculty advisor, each student team starts work by late January on a draft work plan. Based on their desk and field research, each team prepares a report and actionable recommendations for review by the client in late April. Students work on average 8-12 hours per week on their project.

Cost-Sharing 

Clients are asked to provide financial or in-kind support for the project, which is determined during the completion of the project agreement in the fall.

Common expenses include the cost of transportation, per diem allowance during off-campus visits, printing expenses and other miscellaneous costs. Any travel expenses must be approved prior to the undertaking of the project. Because each project will accrue different costs, at this time SIPA does not have a fixed cost-sharing arrangement, but rather establishes the project budget with individual clients at the beginning of the workshop.

Client Responsibilities 

  1. Define goals and deliverables. Clients work with the faculty advisor in the late summer/early fall to define the project goals and deliverables.
  2. Participate in meetings. Over the course of the project, clients are asked to participate in three standard meetings—these are: an initial “kick-off” meeting, mid-term presentation, and final presentation. Beyond these meetings, the client should be available for periodic calls over the course of the semester with the team for status updates (generally twice a month throughout the project).
  3. Provide appropriate support. Clients are asked to provide financial or in-kind support for the project, which is determined during the completion of the project agreement in the fall.

 

Please see the FAQs below for more information:

How does my organization benefit from a Capstone project?

Capstone projects benefit both parties. The organizations benefit from the expertise of SIPA students, who have a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds and who are in the final semester of a demanding, two-year professional degree program at one of the leading schools of international and public affairs in the world.

The students benefit from the opportunity to put learning into practice. We seek to partner with organizations that can offer a project that is timely, but not urgent, which can be completed within a four-month period, that is of value both to the organization itself and to the learning experience of students—and produces actionable recommendations, which ideally will be utilized by the client within the near future.

How do Capstone projects work?

Student teams, working under the supervision of a faculty expert, answer a carefully defined problem posed by the client. Each team produces an actionable report and an oral briefing of their findings at the close of the workshop that is designed to translate into real change on the ground. 

What is the timing for Capstone projects?

The workshop process begins at the end of the spring semester (late April) through the summer (June–August), when possible project ideas are discussed with clients.  By the end of September, a preliminary Terms of Reference is developed.  In October, students submit a formal application to the Capstone program, rank ordering their first through fifth choice.  Students are selected by the faculty advisor and are matched with projects based on their demonstrated skill sets and interests. 

Supported by a Columbia faculty advisor, each student team starts work by late January on a draft work plan.  Based on their desk and field research, each team prepares a report and recommendations for review by the client in late April.  Students work on average 8-12 hours per week on their project.

How does my organization apply for a Capstone workshop?

If you are interested in becoming a potential Capstone client, please complete the Capstone Client Application.

Begin the Capstone Client Application Form

What can my organization expect from a Capstone team?

Client organizations benefit from the expertise of SIPA students who have a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds and who are in the final semester of a demanding, two-year professional degree program at one of the leading schools of international and public affairs in the world. All student teams are advised by a SIPA faculty member with relevant expertise. The specific scope and deliverables of the project will be determined by the Faculty Advisor and Client Project Director. All teams will produce a report and deliver an oral briefing of the findings and recommendations to the client.

What is a Client Project Director? How much time does a Director need to devote to the workshop?

A Client Project Director is a senior-level person who interacts directly with the team on a regular basis and may appoint a colleague to be in charge of the more day to day communication (at least twice a month) throughout the course of the project. The Client Project Director is expected to meet with the Capstone team for three standard meetings throughout the semester—this includes an initial meeting, a mid-term briefing and a final presentation. Additional Interaction can be in person or via conference call. 

What is the selection process for prospective workshops?

Projects are selected by the SIPA Office of Academic Affairs and selected faculty advisors. Criteria for selection include the significance and feasibility of the project, match between the project and the skills and interests of SIPA students, and other factors.

If my organization applies, are we guaranteed a workshop?

We expect to have more workshop proposals than workshop teams and, therefore, cannot guarantee every applicant a workshop. Applicants who are not selected for a workshop this year may be considered for the following year.

What can a team expect from my organization?

Each organization that agrees to work with a student team is expected to assign one, senior-level person to interact directly with the team on a regular basis throughout the course of the project. This person is expected to provide access to information necessary for the completion of the project and to serve as a resource for the students. The client liaison is also expected to organize an appropriate group of senior decision-makers to receive the team’s final oral presentation.

What are expectations regarding distribution and confidentiality of the final report?

SIPA will consult with the client at the close of the workshop to determine what of the final report is available for publication on SIPA’s website. When possible, we would like to publish all of the final deliverables on our website with the understanding that certain projects will not be available for full publication. Whether a report is published on the SIPA website is at the client’s discretion. At minimum, SIPA would like to share the name of the client organization and a brief 250-word abstract of the report. Students also retain the right to reference the name of the client and project and accurately describe in general terms their contribution to the project.