MPP Capstone

The MPP capstone is a one-semester class that culminates in a final paper and oral presentation. Students begin the semester with a topic in mind and hit the ground running, building their project over a 13-week period that mirrors the timing of preparing a real world policy brief. Students work with the capstone professor to ensure that their topics are focused.

Generally students choose a topic that is relevant to their concentration, which helps them bring background knowledge to the policy area and any relevant literature. After selecting a topic, students conduct significant research and literature reviews to diagnose the policy problem and weigh the pros and cons of several potential policy solutions.

Capstone is designed to highlight the policy analysis skills students will have gained during their first 3 semesters of MPP coursework. The final result is a 25-30 page policy brief and an oral presentation. The capstone has a strong focus on concise, cogent writing and verbal communication.

Caroline Swaller, MPP joint with WGSS'17, presenting her capstone
Student Caroline Swaller, MPP'17, responding to a question from Professor Anita Hill on her capstone presentation about paid family leave policy.

A Heller MPP student has won first or second place in the MassASPA capstone competition every year for the last five years 

Every spring, Heller MPP students compete in the Massachusetts chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (MassASPA) capstone competition against students from other MPP and MPA programs.

Mary Brolin, PhD'05, Behavioral Health Policy Concentration chair
MPP capstone course professor Mary Brolin, PhD'05

Mary Brolin, scientist at the Institute for Behavioral Health and lecturer in the MPP program, where she teaches the capstone course, says, “One of the things that amazes me is the that the topics the students present on for capstone are the same things I hear on NPR every day when I ride in. Often I’ll hear stories on the radio about topics that students wrote their capstones on two or three years ago, which tells me our students are doing cutting edge, relevant work that is in the news and continues to be in the news.”

Some recent capstone topics have included:

  • “Better Off Childless: The Care Penalty and the Fight for Paid Leave” by Caroline Swaller, MPP’17
  • “Death Over Despair: Modes of Care Versus Modes of Criminalization in the U.S. Opioid Epidemic Responses” by Alex Montgomery, MPP’17
  • “Take $300 Billion and Call Me in the Morning: Policy Prescriptions for Affordable and Accessible Pharmaceuticals” by Jared Hite, MBA/MPP’17
  • “Working More to Earn Less and Never Having Enough: State Policies to Address and Eliminate the Cliff Effect in Massachusetts” by Avery Brien, MPP’17 (*MassASPA 2017 Capstone Competition Second Place Winner)
  • “Beyond the War on Drugs: Evaluating Pretrial Responses to Drug Activity to Shape a New National Agenda” by Leah Sakala, MBA/MPP’17
  • “When the Last Resort Comes First: Exploring the Overuse of Exclusionary Discipline in Georgia Schools” by Erin Robinson, MPP’16 (*MassASPA 2016 Capstone Competition First Place Winner)
  • “Maintaining the Strength of the Black Female Electorate” by Asiah Gayfield, MPP’16