For a major organization such as the Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments (H-GAC), the use of a student project as reference material is unlikely, but it happened this year to one group of Texas A&M University graduate students, thanks to the Bush School’s capstone program.
As part of the master of public service and administration (MPSA) and master of international affairs (MPIA) programs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, students participate in capstone projects – team-based research projects in which students work for real-world clientele to produce public-policy research reports.
One report, published in May 2012, was produced by MPSA students for H-GAC and according to the supervising professor, Arnold Vedlitz, it is a momentous achievement.
The seven participating students were asked to evaluate the needs and policy options for affordable housing in vulnerable areas of Houston-Galveston, i.e., areas that are subject to poverty, crime, racial divide, low-quality education, natural disaster and other societal and/or environmental problems.
Vedlitz says the result of the students’ effort was so outstanding, that when it came time to request proposals to develop a fair housing plan, the H-GAC listed the report as source material for organizations submitting a proposal.
“The H-GAC is a huge deal,” says Vedlitz, director of the Institute for Science, Technology, and Public Policy, and Bob Bullock Chair in Government and Public Policy. “We’re talking 113 cities, 13 counties and six million people. And they’re concerned about their affordable housing. It’s an incredible accomplishment for these students and it speaks to the real quality of work being done at the Bush School.”
Kymberly Reynolds was one of the student participants and says H-GAC’s use of the report as source material is a great honor. “That’s something you can point to and say I participated in this,” she says. “It really validates all our hard work and lends credibility to us as we move forward in our careers.”
Reynolds, a spring 2012 MPSA graduate, is currently working for the Brazos Valley Council of Governments as a community and economic development planning intern. Later this fall, she’ll begin a new job as a consultant at Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company that happens to be one of the Bush School’s capstone clients.
Capstones give students networking opportunities with a variety of private and public sector organizations. Reynolds acknowledges that Accenture’s relationship with the Bush School no doubt aided her in securing the job.
The projects also prepare students for the working world in ways that exceed traditional class lectures, says Vedlitz. “If you ask students who’ve graduated, they will say this was their most important experience at the Bush School.
“They’re learning many different skills: how to do research and develop ideas, analyze data, solve problems and make decisions, communicate effectively, demonstrate leadership, work as a team and publicly present their work,” Vedlitz explains. “It is very intense and time consuming – there’s a lot of pressure. But once they get past it and they’re in their jobs, without exception, they’ll say it was well worth the effort.”
The Bush School averages around 15 capstones per year, and Vedlitz maintains that the students do all the work with the professors playing only supervisory roles. “We hold them to a standard and help them achieve it, but we don’t do the work for them.”
The professors do create the projects at the start of the term and students submit requests for which project they’d like to join.
Once a project begins, the students decide which roles and responsibilities each person in the group will assume. “They will elect a project manager and then divide the responsibilities,” Vedlitz explains.
Reynolds’ group met with Vedlitz in class once a week and the rest of the work was done outside the classroom. Once the report was complete, the students presented their findings to the client.
In her project, Reynolds was the client liaison – the intermediary between the capstone group and the H-GAC client – which meant, “I sent e-mails back and forth all year long,” she laughs. “I also did work on data analysis, case study analysis, stakeholder interviews and secondary analysis.”
H-GAC is not the only prestigious client served by Bush School capstones; clients range from local, state and federal government agencies, to nonprofit organizations and private sector companies. The clients are not charged for the work, although occasionally, a fee for travel expenses is contractually agreed upon.
“Our clients love what we do, and they come to us time after time,” notes Vedlitz.
Amy Boyers was part of the H-GAC client team and can attest to the quality of the report. “The students were extremely professional and on par with many consulting firms we work with,” she says. “The report was very thorough, logically organized and contains useful information that we will incorporate into a final document in 2013.”
Boyers says H-GAC plans to continue its participation in the capstone program. “H-GAC gains a professional-quality product at no cost. There is no shortage of policy issues in our region, so we have a lot of material to work with.”
Past MPSA capstone clients have included such organizations as the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Legislature, the United Way, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Congressional Research Service. MPIA capstone clients have been The World Bank, the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and many more.
Topics of Bush School capstones range from counterterrorism, homeland security, climate change and finance, to immigration, social services, redistricting and diversity in hiring.
Read the Bush School’s report on affordable housing in the H-GAC region here.
Media Contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University
(979) 845-5591; email@example.com