The Capstone Project: A Stepping Stone to Careers

By Hyesoo Seo

Too much of anything is never good. If the Class of 2018 is too preoccupied with the simultaneous handling of job searching and capstone projects, they might miss out on how privileged they are to have capstone workshops as a stepping stone to actual work life.

Before 2010, only a few concentrations enjoyed a chance to gain firsthand field work experience before graduation through participation in a Capstone workshop. Students requested that other concentrations should also be provided such an opportunity. Accepting this demand, the school decided to include the capstone project as a core graduation requirement of both the MIA and MPA programs beginning in 2010, part of a major revamping of the curriculum.

Capstone projects have grown in size and quality since then. In spring 2010, there were 13 Capstone projects for Non-EPD students and today the program boasts 60 Capstone projects annually. Non-EPD students had almost no choice in spring 2010 – HRHP, EE, and ISP had only “one” choice available. In eight years, the average number of projects offered for non-EPD concentrations has quadrupled from 3.2 to 14.

Number of Capstone Projects



Suzanne Hollmann, director of the Capstone project, has overseen the entire evolution of capstone workshops all along from fall 2008 when she joined SIPA. She says, “SIPA offers the largest number of capstone projects in the United States and probably in the world,” and with many satisfied clients returning the next year, the school came to a point where it has to “carefully select clients to make a good combination of options available for students.” One more amazing aspect of the SIPA capstone, she notes, is that every project has one faculty adviser. “In NYU, for example, one faculty oversees four or five projects,” meaning fewer quality experiences for students.  

Although all projects offer rewarding experiences to students, some do enjoy extra jubilance of seeing their recommendations turn into actual policies. Director Hollmann recalls two high achievements last year – the Staten Island Needs Assessment: Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment Systems of Care and the Examining Barriers of Workforce Integration for Syrian Refugees in Jordan projects.

Through 29 semi-structured interviews with 61 individuals directly involved in this matter, the Capstone team identified a gap between where service centers are situated and where overdoses are happening, devising a list of effective recommendations. One of these recommendations was realized on an actual website that provides information about available opioid addiction treatment options, Their contribution to the community was introduced in a New York Times articles and praised in a press release by the Office of the District Attorney of Richmond County and Special Narcotics prosecutor for the City of New York.   

Another capstone team that delved into finding the barriers faced by Syrian refugees in Jordan during the employment process through 41 semi-structured interviews and discussions with 138 Syrian refugees. The team concluded with five recommendations, which were officially released by IFC/ILO Better Work Jordan in July 2017.

These examples demonstrate that the capstone project is a representation of the intellectual and work capacity of SIPA students and a connection to the outside world.  

Practical Tips for the Class of 2019

The Class of 2019, tune in for some practical tips for next year. Students have to select five projects in order of preference and write a short statement of interest for each one. SIPA faculty members receive a pool of students who applied for each project, review the background and qualities that best match those requested by clients, and finalize the placement process. Director Hollmann warns against pursuing only big names and advises students to “pick strategically.” Although 95% of students end in their top three choices, choosing renowned clients regardless of your credentials might put slide you down to a lower ranked choice.

SEEPLES, embellish your last memories at SIPA with a meaningful capstone project experience and outcome!