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MPA Capstone Guidelines

*Last updated Spring 2024  

The Capstone Project requires students to work on a project with another organization or entity either directly or indirectly, and then write a final paper that connects the project to key theories, works, and concepts from core courses, their chosen concentration of study, and from independent research. Students can work with an appropriate agency or organization of their choice. The organization may be their current employer –  so long as the project is distinct from their regular workload. Students will work with the organization to address an issue, problem, or project. Students will convene a two-person Committee, which can include the MPA Coordinator (or another Professor), to provide guidance, to participate in the presentation, and assess their final paper. The paper must demonstrate a connection to, and comprehension of core theories, ideas, and practices learned in the program. If students pass the paper assessment and presentation then the student is eligible for graduation


  • To begin, students must complete all coursework or be within 2 units of completing all coursework (including any prerequisites), have a clear academic record, and receive permission to register in a specific Capstone course (POLS 598). Students must, therefore, be eligible to be “advanced to candidacy.”  A student can be enrolled for up to 4 units in one semester (POLS 598-004). These units can count towards the fulfillment of their elective requirement for the MPA degree. Students must meet with the Coordinator and discuss their project before receiving a permission number to register. Permission numbers are granted at the discretion of the Coordinator.
  • Students spend the first semester working with an organization on a particular project approved by the MPA Coordinator. By the end of the first semester, students need to submit a complete Prospectus to the Chair of their Committee and/or the MPA Coordinator (as appropriate) for approval. The Prospectus will include an identification of the literature to use for a full literature review, a description of the project, an identification of key connections between the literature and the project, and an outline of the methodology.
  • Students must successfully recruit a second Committee Member during the first semester. The second Committee Member can be external to the university, but they will need a Master’s degree or higher and a clear relationship to the scholarship and/or project. Committee members cannot have a conflict of interest with the student. Committee member selection is subject to approval by the Coordinator. If outside of SSU, an up-to- date CV or resume is to be provided specifying the qualifications of the additional Committee Member.
  • Students must have a short written document to prepare
  • Students must submit a document that includes their proposed agency partner, a research question, and a thesis statement by the end of the 4th week of the first semester in the Capstone.
  • Students must submit a draft Prospectus by end of the 10th week of the semester of the first semester in the Capstone.
  • If the Prospectus is approved by the Committee Members, students advance to the next semester to complete their projects. If the Prospectus is unapproved or incomplete, students will continue to work on it until it is finished, which could result in students taking a third semester of Capstone. In both cases, Students enroll in a second semester in Project Continuation.
  • If the project methods requires human subject research, students should begin their IRB applications by the end of the first semester.  This process can take a long time, so plan accordingly.
  • Students who successfully complete the first semester requirements will enroll in Project Continuation in the next semester and will work on the project. This includes data collection, analysis, completing their final paper, and presenting their work via a public Oral Defense. 
  • After a successful Defense, the final paper is presented to university Graduate Studies Office (GSO) for archiving per university policy and standards.
  • By the end of the second semester, the Committee will schedule a presentation that is open to students, faculty, and the public. Students are encouraged to invite whomever they worked with on their project and/or others as appropriate. Students present their work and findings, and successfully respond to questions from the Committee. In addition to the presentation, the Committee assesses the final paper.
  • Students who pass the presentation and final paper will advance to graduation. Students who do not will need to enroll in another semester of Project Continuation in order to complete their Capstone projects.
  • The MPA Capstone is treated like a Thesis or Creative Project and therefore, as the culminating experience in our program, the Graduate Studies Office (GSO) frequently updates the “SSU Master’s Thesis and Project Formatting Guidelines.”
  • The latest version is available through the Graduate Studies Office (GSO) website for  
    Thesis Review  ( and directly at this link:
  • Students are reminded that there are frequent updates that include clarifications and additional examples of formatting. 
  • The GSO also hosts a workshop each semester for graduate students writing theses and projects about the Master’s Thesis and Project Formatting Guidelines.
  • The format style for the Capstone in MPA is the Chicago format.


  • Students will learn how to responsibly carry out a professional project with a public or non- profit organization;
  • Students will learn how to work independently on a significant project;
  • Students will be able to apply scholarly work to the description and analysis of a hands-on experience;
  • Students will be able to connect the academic and practical aspects of the capstone coursework;
  • Students will be able to demonstrate competence over the core and track-specific materials in the MPA program.


Students will be assessed on the following basis:

  1. The prospectus (P/NP);
  2. The final paper (P/NP);
  3. The presentation of the final paper (P/NP).


Prior to Spring 2024 Semester: Preparatory Work Begins

  • Review your record and meet with MPA Coordinator and/or recruit your Committee Members to confirm that you are ready to start Capstone the following semester.
  • Start thinking about whom you wish to work with and what your expectations are for this project.  Think of possible Committee Members and a Capstone Chair. 

Spring 2024 Semester: Capstone Enrollment & Prospectus Begins

  • Meeting with MPA Coordinator to discuss Capstone, GSO-1, Candidacy, and process.
  • Enroll in POLS 598 Capstone (permission number required).
  • Schedule a meeting (or email) with the Coordinator to discuss your plans.
  • PRIOR to this meeting, communicate with your Committee Members and Chair (if not the Coordinator).
  • Meet with your point person at the organization you have chosen to work with, and create a plan for your level of engagement in their organization, the data you wish to collect and method for doing so, and your respective responsibilities.
  • Independently work with the organization over the course of the semester.
  • Independently write your Prospectus. Schedule meetings with the Committee Chair (or Coordinator) as you need them.
  • Submit your Week 4 and Week 10 assignments to the Coordinator or Committee Chair.
  • Submit your prospectus to the Committee by the end of the semester for assessment. Deadline to be determined by the Committee in consultation with the student.

Fall 2024 Semester: Final Paper Preparation & Oral Defense

  • Use the SSU “Grace Semester” process to finish Capstone, without enrolling into any course; 


  • Enroll in POLS 578 Project Continuation through the School of Extended Ed. 
  • If appropriate, meet with the Coordinator to make a plan for this semester. If your prospectus was approved, you will work towards finishing the capstone. If it was not, you will continue to work on the prospectus until it is approved during that semester.
  • Work independently to finish your project or data collection with your chosen organization. This should be done relatively early on in the semester.
  • Work independently to write your final paper and prepare a presentation. Work with your Committee to determine how often they would like to read drafts along the way.
  • Plan to give your presentation towards the end of the semester, usually within a few weeks of the last week of instruction. The Coordinator, in consultation with a Student’s Chair and Committee, will set a date for all Capstone presentations that semester.
  • BY THE TENTH WEEK of this semester, the final presentation needs to be scheduled per direction of the Chair of the student’s Committee and with the consent of the second Committee Member. This schedule is coordinated with the MPA Coordinator. 
  • Give a 20- to 25--minute presentation of your work. Presentations are open to the public.
  • Defend the presentation per questions posed during the Defense. 
  • The whole Oral Defense time will last not more than one hour. 
  • Submit your final draft to your Committee for assessment. This can be done after the presentation, but before the final week of instruction.
  • Submit your final version to the GSO per university standards and policies. 
  • Pending successful completion of all required work, advance towards graduation.



Introduction/Background Info

Literature Review




Recommendations and Conclusion


Appendix / Appendices (as appropriate)

Figures / Tables (as appropriate)


(these lists are not comprehensive)

A good paper:

  • Is logically organized and coherent
  • Identifies and addresses the salient issues posed by the research question
  • Demonstrates in-depth familiarity with and understanding of the context of the project (i.e. understands the background conditions, political environment, etc.).
  • Demonstrates in-depth familiarity with and understanding of the texts identified in the literature review
  • Appropriate and thorough connection between literature and the practical aspects of the project
  • Shows a high level of critical thinking
  • Engages the project with some originality
  • Is thoroughly proofread and written well

An unacceptable paper:

  • Is disorganized and incoherent
  • Does not address the thrust of the research question
  • Presents arguments that do not adequately demonstrate first-hand knowledge and understanding of the appropriate texts
  • Is narrative instead of analytical
  • Is wholly lacking in originality or an interesting perspective on the issue(s) discussed
  • Is poorly written


  • Informative and shares unique insights and analysis
  • Appropriately summarizes information, theories, and ideas critical to understanding the major findings that will be shared
  • Uses clear and helpful visual aids that do not distract from the presentation, are clearly readable to the back of the room or on Zoom, and improves understanding of your presentation
  • Conclusions are accurate, evidence-based, and thoughtfully presented
  • Avoid jargon and use colloquialisms sparingly
  • Transitions are smooth and logical
  • Evidence of extensive and relevant research, demonstrates competence over material from core and concentration-specific courses
  • Information, theories, and examples shared are factually correct and presented as clearly as possible
  • Presentation appropriate to the audience
  • Presentation style is professional, engaging, and demonstrates preparedness and comfort with and confidence in the material
  • Presenter encourages and appropriately fields questions and comments from the audience
  • Presenter is able to answer questions and have discussions about their work and related theories, ideas, and practices
  • Presentation stays within the required length