Currently viewing the tag: "Capstone"

So far this week I’ve pointed you toward a student’s suggested summer reading list and a student-run blog.  Today I’d like to highlight the Capstone Projects that students have written and then shared with the Tufts Digital Library.

The current Capstone requirement allows for a final product in many different forms, including a thesis.  Not so many years ago, a traditional thesis was the only option.  As a result, the projects can be found in two places: under Fletcher Capstone and under Fletcher Thesis, with some overlap between the two.  There are many summers worth of reading in there, but of course you can pick and choose.

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The Tufts Digital Library each year collects and catalogues Fletcher students’ capstone projects, which can then be found from the research section of the Fletcher web site.  Each year I see the call for capstones, but fail to note when they are available online.  So with considerable delay, let me point you toward the capstones for the class of 2015 and earlier.  With topics ranging from South-South Technology Cooperation to Terrorism and Freedom of Expression: An Econometric Analysis, the titles provide a nice picture of the scope of interests among Fletcher students.

I’ll try to link to the most recent capstones as soon as they’re available later this fall.

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An enduring tradition, the “thes-ku.”  For many years now, a graduating student has come forward to unleash the flood of procrastination-inducing capstone-inspired poetry.  The concept: capture the content of your capstone in haiku format (that is, three lines with five, seven, and five syllables).  Please find below a sampling of the capstone titles and related thes-kus.  Note that many, but not all, students write a traditional thesis to fulfill the capstone requirement.  Also note that I have snagged these off the Social List and am sharing them without attribution, but without objection from their writers.

One student wrote that she “mostly wrote a thesis just so I could summarize it in haiku format.”  Whether that’s 100% true or not, her thes-ku leads the collection:

Wired for Geopolitics: Incentives Shaping Technology Companies’ International Policy Decisions
Google runs the world
Because they want more profit?
It’s not that simple.

War Without Weapons: A History of International Politics in Sport and the Future of North Korea
Sports matter to Kim
It’s ideological
Let’s play together!

Systematically Seeking Shared Value: An Analysis of USAID Public-Private Partnerships
Once about leverage
Now shared value is our thing
Finding it is hard

Promoting Pluralism or Patronage?: Parliamentary Electoral System Design in Timor-Leste
East Timor elects
Few parties despite system.
Pacts spread patronage.

The Role of Congress in Offensive Cyber Operations
No one likes Congress
Cyber is so hot right now
…Checks and balances?

Fractured Lives: Personal Narratives of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
Parents’ old stories
Have historical value
Who would’ve thunk it?

Feminism on the Field: Changing Attitudes about Girls’ Soccer in Southern Morocco
Girls play soccer too
Attitudes are hard to change
These girls are badass

Doing Harm: How Humanitarian Organizations Have Exacerbated Identity Conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
Conflict is the worst
But humanitarians
Could be the worst-est.

From the Jamba to Christian Dior: Fashion Trends and Regime Preservation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Kim likes fashion
Don’t be hatin’ on his vogue
It’s all political

Paying for Performance: Policy Reform to Improve Maternal and Child Health Outcomes in Rural Bihar
Conditional cash
Sometimes it just ain’t enough
Systems change vital.

The PPA Crutch: The Implications of Renewable Energy Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) in New England. Lessons Learned from Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) Independent Power Producers (IPP)
Utilities sign
Power Purchase Agreements
While solar price drops.

Life after Salesforce: User Adoption and Implementation Strategy from Social Impact Organizations
Cloud computing what
UTAUT for who
Fletcher can speak tech

The Business Case for Sustainability: Developing an Environmental Vision and Strategy at a Privately-Held Retailer
Climate change is real
You’re pretty late to the game
Let’s convince your boss

Energy is Power: The Role of Oil in Self-Determination Movements with Case Studies on Iraqi Kurdistan and Greenland
Oil runs the world
revenues or resource curse
it creates new states?

A Blend in 21st Century Warfare: The Balance of Deterrence vs. Provocation
Putin Rides Big Bears
Russia is reemerging
NATO is worried

Promoting Pluralism or Patronage?: Parliamentary Electoral System Design in Timor-Leste
East Timor elects
Few parties despite system.
Pacts spread patronage.

What is Missed When Measured:  A Systematic Review of Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Conflict-Affected Populations
Gender-based violence
Such a mouthful. Hard to rhyme.
Don’t forget the men.

Survival in the Frontier Borderlands: Widespread and Opportunistic Violence, Governance, and Livelihoods in the Karamoja Cluster
Guns be a’flowin’
Cattle raided, crops stolen
State can’t stop us now

Last, but not least, as the haiku is a revered Japanese poetry form, we have a contribution from a Japanese student, who noted that a true haiku should refer to the seasons, and who implied that this is not her best-ever haiku effort.

The United Nations, Peacekeeping Operations and Assisting Sustainable Rule of Law
背中押す  (せなかおす:Se Na Ka O Su)
法の治めし (ほうのおさめし:Ho U No O Sa Me Shi)
国づくり        (くにづくり:Ku Ni Zu Ku Ri)

The translation:
Let them build RoL
No imposition, it’s culture
A long and winding road

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Even as 2016 graduates are submitting their Capstone Projects, some of 2017’s grads have already selected a topic for theirs.  Professor Amar Bhidé recently informed the community that he is compiling a “‘library’ of case studies on successful medical innovations,” as part of a study of medical advances.  He invited students to work on a case study, individually or as part of a team, for a Capstone.  The list of innovations from which they can select includes such topics as:

Bone marrow transplant
H. Pylori testing and treatment
Hip and knee replacement
HIV testing and treatment
Inhaled steroids for asthma
IV-conscious sedation
Laparoscopic surgery
MRI and CT scanning
Nonsedating antihistamines
NSAIDs and Cox-2 inhibitors
Statins
Tamoxifen
Ultrasonography including echocardiography

These aren’t the typical Fletcher topics, but for the right students, they could be the start of a very interesting Capstone.

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If you ask second-year MALD/MIB students, or those in the one-year MA or LLM programs, about their Capstone Projects this week, you’ll find them in every stage of the process:  research, writing, editing, DONE!  The capstones take a variety of forms — from group work on a business plan to a traditional thesis — and the form might play a role in determining the process.

The Ginn Library invites students to share their capstones each year via the Tufts Digital Library, and some do.  While we wait for the 2016 graduates to complete their projects, you can consult the archives to read the works of the Class of 2015.

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Returning once more, probably for the last time in the First-Year Alumni feature, to the Class of 2014, we meet Christina Brown, for whom study at Fletcher was one step in a multi-step career transition.

LahoreThree years ago, I was packing up my classroom after finishing another year of teaching physics, and now I am a few weeks away from beginning a PhD program in economics.  The last three years have been a wonderful period of change and self-discovery, and at Fletcher cases like mine are not unique.  I am one of many classmates who used Fletcher for a career transition — a place to both discover what it is you want to do and then gain the skills to make that career path possible.

Prior to Fletcher, I taught high school in a low-income community outside Boston through Teach for America and in a rural village in Tanzania through One Heart Source, a health and education NGO.  While I loved teaching, my enjoyment was tempered with frustration over the tremendous systemic problems constraining the education market, especially in developing countries.

I wanted to work in the development sector, but I did not know how to break into the field, or for that matter, where.  Did I want to be a program manager?  Evaluator?  Sectoral specialist?  I wasn’t sure where my skills and interests would be a good match.  I chose to attend Fletcher because I wanted the flexibility to explore development from different perspectives, to see where I would fit best.

Coursework in my first year in program evaluation and in development economics helped to solidify my interests, allowing me to gain useful skills for the development sector.  Prof. Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church’s series of monitoring and evaluation courses were particularly useful.  Her approach to evaluation is exceptionally rigorous, and with many of the alumni of her courses now in leadership positions within evaluation departments, her high aspiration for the evaluation field is seeping into many organizations.  This group of former students stays in contact, growing year by year, through an email listserve and yearly gatherings at the American Evaluation Association Conference.

However, it was Prof. Jenny Aker’s coursework that ultimately led me to the path I am currently on.  Like many members of the Fletcher faculty, Prof. Aker has many years of experience as a practitioner, working in West Africa, before returning to academia.  And it showed in every lecture she taught.  Her research was fascinating and thoroughly informed by her work in the field.  There are many opportunities to work closely with professors whose work you are interested in, and I was lucky to serve as both a teaching assistant and research assistant for Prof. Aker.

At heart I am a math nerd, looking for an analytic approach to solve problems.  Fletcher showed me that I could still care about the issues I was interested in — poverty, education, inequality — while approaching them from a quantitative angle.  Seeing academics like Prof. Aker and others who were doing policy-relevant research and were at the forefront of the issues in their field, showed me an academic career need not be divorced from the issues on the ground.  Towards the end of my first year I decided I wanted to do a PhD in economics and become a researcher.  Rather than a light bulb going off, it was a slow, profound realization that this was what I wanted to do with my life.  Luckily, due to Fletcher’s flexibility in coursework and ties to Boston-area schools, I was able to pivot in my second year and take two PhD-level courses at the Harvard School of Public Health and one at the Harvard Kennedy School.

At Fletcher, students are required to do a capstone project, which can take the form of the deliverable that is most useful for the student’s professional development.  I choose to write a paper similar to an economics journal article, as it allowed me to see the research process from start to finish.  I used an econometric strategy I learned during my first year to investigate the impact of an early grade literacy program in Indonesia.  I found the program only had an effect for higher performing students and that this heterogeneity stemmed from differences in the time cost of participation in the program.  These findings were used to inform the program scale-up.  This experience deepened my love of the research process, and the tangible outcomes it produced.

A week after graduation, I began as a Research Fellow at Evidence for Policy Design, the microeconomic division of Harvard’s Center for International Development.  I oversee the implementation, data collection, and analysis for two randomized controlled trials in Pakistan, working closely with our field team and six principal investigators across several universities.  The job was a perfect fit, building off the RA skills I had gained working with Prof. Aker, and, of course, I heard about the job through a fellow Fletcher student.

Throughout the fall I applied to economics PhD programs and, again, Fletcher professors came through to offer advice and support.  I am thrilled to be attending UC Berkeley, which has one of the best programs in the world for development economics, this fall.  I truly would not be here if not for the mentorship I received from Fletcher faculty, opportunities I heard about through Fletcher alumni, and friendship of fellow Fletcher students.

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Earlier this semester, via the Social List, a PhD student who previously completed the MALD degree revived a several-year tradition wherein students reframe the title of their thesis in the form of a haiku.  Unfamiliar with this poetry form?  In its most basic, the haiku requires three lines of seven, five, and seven syllables.  Perhaps these thesis haikus (or thes-kus) don’t quite reach the pinnacle of haiku achievement, but they certainly frame the thesis topics well.  I tried not to pick among them and just harvested as many as I could off the Social List messages.

The Thesis Haikus

Thesis/haiku title: “Trends in youth political engagement during Tunisia’s democratic transition, 2010-2014”

We did it our way
And then we tried it their way
Neither really work.

Thesis/haiku title: “Culture and Women’s Rights: CEDAW Article 5(a) Implementation in West Africa”

Women get the shaft
Laws are trying to fix this
Culture makes it hard

“The New Frontier of development: how securitization and risk spreading in the microfinance industry can benefit development and the private sector”

Nervous investors
Development won’t hurt you
Try it, it’s awesome

“The 2014 Tunisian electoral system: implications of a semi-presidential system on the nascent democracy”

Tunisia has a new regime!
Lots of new rules
Awesome! Or is it?

“The Drivers of Russia’s Course: Russian Foreign Policy and Putin’s Fear of Revolution”

Putin is afraid
of color revolutions
and blames the U.S.

“The Evolution of Head of State Immunity for International Crimes”

Gotta extradite!
personal immunity?
Oh, never mind then.

“Beyond Isolation: Moving Past the Refugee Camp and Connecting to Home”

War and disaster
A mobile phone for the road
Connecting with home

“Food Security, Monoculture, and the Black Box: Impact and Causal Mechanisms of the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting, and Hillside Irrigation Program in Rwanda”

Dudes ate better food
Why do we see these results?
Probably compost

“The effect of sector-specific tax incentives on Brazilian FDI inflows”

People hate taxes.
Wait, isn’t that obvious?
Yup. That’s my capstone…

“Russia’s invasion of Crimea: effects on energy geopolitics in the Caucasus and the Central Asia”

Putin hits, EU watches
Right in the middle Ukraine falls
In the end, energy talks

“Commercializing Cassava: A Case Study of SABMiller’s South Sudan Supply Chain”

Beer is real tasty
And farmers might make mo’ cash
Oh wait, there’s a war

“Migration by Choice, Not Necessity? Shifts in the Migration and Development Discourse since 2007”

If not migrant rights,
What are you really talking about?
Cue awkward silence.

“Advocating for Security Sector Reform in the Review of Peace Operations: Strategy and Analysis for United Nations Security Sector Reform Practitioners”

Not merely bullets
Governance and ownership
Listen, Ban Ki-moon

“How to Evaluate Non-State Actors for Political and Military Partnerships in Irregular Conflicts: A Case Study of the Free Syrian Army”

Wars get ugly quick.
Something called HUMINT.
Next time, read a history book.

“The new European Commission: institutional and political capacities to relaunch the European economy.”

New leaders – new will?
Or promises don’t bind?
Merkel will decide.

“A comparative analysis of transnational criminal groups in Latin America: Mexican drug cartels and Salvadoran gangs — an overview of trends and responses”

Both are really bad
Monkey see, monkey do… eek!
Governments are slow

“Progress, Opportunity, Prosperity? A Case Study of the Digitization of a Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Mexico”

Cash money real nice
Digital road less traveled
Change is really hard

“Philippine Department Of Tourism: A Case Study Destination Branding Through “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”

Manila Thrill-ah
Islands, Beaches, FDI
And lots of traffic…

“Drivers of conflict around hydropower development in the Brazilian Amazon: from Tucurui to Tapajos”

It’s all about trust
If you screw me I screw you
As simple as that

“Navigating Nairobi: A Case Study of Digital Innovation in the Transport and Logistics Sector in Kenya”

Bus, car, bike, walk…stay?
Phone and internet, oh yay!
Twende o twende

(Twende = “let’s go” in Swahili)

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With most graduating students either just done with or still toiling over their Capstone Projects, and with incoming students inquiring about support for research, I thought I would share this notice from last month inviting students to apply for capstone research grants.  I can’t guarantee that this exact opportunity will be available again next year, but students who plan carefully can find sources of support for their research.

The Hitachi Center for Technology and International Affairs at the Fletcher School announces research funding opportunities for Fletcher students.  In accordance with its mission to sponsor research on the role of innovation and technological change, the Hitachi Center seeks to provide funding to advance student research in these fields.

The Center will fund student research projects for current capstones, or research that will be conducted over the summer of 2015 that leads to future capstones, on the role of technology in international affairs.

Research proposals that focus on the following areas will be given priority:

  • Technology and economic development, in particular ICT4D
  • Technology and agriculture, the environment, education, financial services, health, human security, democracy, security and terrorism
  • Global technology industries
  • “Next Generation” Infrastructure: Global trends in the evolution of social infrastructure (infrastructure that supports migration of data/information across platforms, and dependability)

Students must be enrolled in a degree program at The Fletcher School and plan to spend the summer of 2015 engaged in research for a graduate program capstone project, dissertation or the equivalent.  Priority will be given to: 1) projects that are the most closely related to the Center’s areas of interest; and 2) are related to capstone research.  In addition, grantees should be willing to write up a brief summary and do a poster presentation of their research by October 2015, to be shared with the Hitachi Center Board.

Students interesting in applying for this funding should provide:

  • A research proposal of no more than three pages
  • A timeline of the summer research plan
  • A proposed budget (including any other expected or potential sources of funding)
  • A letter of support from a faculty capstone project advisor
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Returning to the students writing about their Fletcher experience, today Liam describes his progress on developing his Capstone Project, which is both a graduation requirement and an opportunity for students to build a curriculum that meets their individual needs.  New students arrive at Fletcher with the full range of thinking on their capstones — from no idea whatsoever what they’ll write, to perfect clarity on their topic and planned field research.  All have the option of selecting an “incubator” course, which is designed to help them develop their ideas and research.  Liam has opted to write a traditional academic thesis, but other project formats are also options.

As I begin to wind down my time at Fletcher — and thus have to start ramping up my capstone efforts — I thought a post about lessons I’ve learned regarding the capstone process could be useful.

First, it’s perfectly fine if you have no idea what you want to do for your capstone when you come to Fletcher, or really even through the first semester.  I spent my entire first year thinking about a topic for my thesis that, at year’s end, I ultimately decided just wasn’t where I wanted to go.  That’s okay.  I found that meeting about twice a semester with Professor Shultz, my advisor, was a lifesaver, because as we began a dialogue about what I was planning and where I had trouble, he asked good questions that prompted me to think about what it was I really wanted to get out of the experience.  Shifting gears at the end of my second semester meant that I had more of a focus over the summer to do research.

One thing I wish I had done better throughout my first three semesters was to tie term papers to my thesis topic.  I’m writing about the U.S. Army’s security force assistance efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to compile best practices on what works going forward, but the only course for which I’ve written a paper relevant to that topic was for Internal Conflicts and War, my capstone “incubator” class.

Obviously, not every class is going to be a good option for writing a paper that pertains to your thesis.  But instead of writing papers on the Iran Hostage Crisis (Crisis Management and Complex Emergencies), the U.S. mission in Somalia in the 1990s (Peace Operations), or right wing terror groups in the U.S. (Modern Terrorism and Counterterrorism), I probably could have chosen topics for those classes that, while not fitting perfectly into my thesis, were at least relevant to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I certainly learned a lot in the research and writing of those papers, but I probably could have been more strategic in picking topics that would support the research for my thesis.

Another thing that is important to note is that if you want to do any type of interviews, you need to put in for an institutional review board.  It’s not that big of a deal, but even if you’re requesting a waiver, it’s still a process through Tufts that takes some time, so I would recommend doing it as soon as you have an idea what you want to research.

Your capstone really is what you make of it.  In my experience, I feel I missed a chance to tie more papers to my thesis, especially since I knew my topic by my second semester.  However, the biggest lesson I’ve taken away is to sit down with your capstone advisor early, and then at least once or so a semester, to just spitball ideas on what you are thinking and where you want the process to go.  I’ve gotten a hold of some great resources that way, and it has kept me on track as I try to finish up one of the last remaining milestones of my Fletcher experience.

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Every year, Fletcher students are invited to submit their Capstone Projects to the Tufts Digital Library’s E-Scholarship collection.  The 2014 collection hasn’t been posted yet, but there’s certainly no shortage of reading material.  Most of the submissions are traditional theses, but I’m sure that, over time, we’ll be seeing some Capstones in different formats.

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