Masters Capstone Seminar

Rather than write a thesis or take a comprehensive exam, students at the Trachtenberg School complete a Capstone Seminar as their final core course as a culmination of the achievement of earning a master’s degree. During the seminar, students work in a small team of classmates to design and implement substantial analytic projects for external clients, such as government agencies or nonprofit organizations. The pro bono projects result in a written report and a formal presentation of research results to both the external client and Trachtenberg School community. 


Capstone by the numbers

3 to 6 teammates

Capstone teams typically involve 5 students.

75 hours

“My team spent 75 hours running numbers in STATA.” — Janette Martinez, MPA ‘17 (Capstone projects vary, but can include analyzing raw data to inform policy.)

14 rounds

“We received 14 rounds of feedback from our Capstone advisor, including in-person meetings, written comments and presentation practice sessions.” — Michael Downey, MPP ‘17

1.5 presentations

“We had kind of half a presentation of our work to a collection of faculty, students and alumni. This was great practice for our official presentation to our client.” — Rachel Shank, MPA ‘18


zero dollars

“I learned a lot during the Capstone process. It was preparation for the job I do today with a consulting company.” — Christine Mellen, MPP ‘15 (Capstone projects are pro bono, but they are real work that can be included on your resume and LinkedIn)

2018 miles

“Our team was able to meet with the community and business leaders in Durango, CO, research the issue from our perspective, and then present those findings directly to the DOE.” — Ben Walsh, MA-ENRP, ‘12


  • Identify and solve a real world problem
  • Work collaboratively with other students and relevant members of the client agency
  • Integrate skills and knowledge gained from previous courses and experiences
  • Practice the full complement of communication skills, including written reports and oral presentations





Over the past three years, capstone projects have been completed in 14 categories: 

  • Childhood Development & Education
  • Domestic Violence & Human Trafficking
  • Energy, Environment, & Sustainability
  • Engineering & Technology
  • Government & Public Administration
  • Healthcare
  • Housing, Employment, & Poverty
  • Hunger & Food Security
  • International Development
  • Other
  • Security
  • Social Justice Policy
  • Urban Development & Transportation
  • Veterans Affairs

The Students' Role

The Capstone team’s role is similar to that of an external consultant. Using specifications and guidance from an external agency or nonprofit organization, the team will clarify project goals and identify who on the team will be responsible for each assignment. The team will submit a final report to the client agency and to Trachtenberg School faculty at the conclusion of the project. All members of the team will be equally responsible for the success of the project. Accomplishing this ambitious goal – particularly in a one-semester time span – requires more than simple mastery of prior courses; it requires moving rapidly with adroit planning, aggressive time management, resourcefulness and creativity.

The Client's Role

Because the teams must work in a limited timeframe of 8-10 weeks, it is important that the client and team agree on a topic of importance and interest to both the client and the team, making sure that the task is suitable for the time period and resources available. Constructing a mutually advantageous and feasible research effort is often an iterative process that may evolve even after the agreement on an initial scope of work. Throughout the process, the client provides information and access to necessary data to the student team. Capstone teams produce a professional, comprehensive written report and oral presentation with the results of their work to the client at the end of the semester -- early December for Fall Capstones and late April/early May for Spring Capstones.