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Cornell University Cornell Brooks Public Policy

Capstone Projects

We take tremendous pride in the work that Brooks MPA Students accomplish through the Capstone program each semester. Our partnerships with government and nonprofit organizations result in new programs, strategies, policy assessments, business plans and more; these deliverables are valuable to our clients. The projects are also an indispensable component of the MPA Program curriculum, providing students with important hands-on research and leadership experience. Below, please find a summary of recent team projects.

Recent Team Projects

Global Livingston Institute: Lira, Uganda

The MPA Program has partnered with the Global Livingston Institute (GLI) for the past three years exploring ways to empower a local population of former child soldiers. In spring 2018, the organization launched an agricultural training program for small farmers including former child soldiers based on the research and recommendations of capstone teams. This semester’s team will analyze baseline data and develop a follow-up study to track progress and identify successes, and barriers to success, of the new farmer training program. The team will offer recommendations for strengthening the training program, gathering data moving forward, increasing market opportunities, and possibly expanding the program and developing farmer cooperatives in surrounding areas. GLI Farming Collaborative:

New York City Housing Preservation & Development

This team will work with HPD to research 2018-2019 standard practices and criteria for allocating federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to developers in several states and NYC. The team will also develop financial models to highlight the costs and benefits associated with using LIHTC funding to support project criteria, such as those related to social or environmental sustainability goals. This project will provide information that HPD can use to inform its thinking about the most efficient uses of LIHTC funds, within the context of the agency’s FY 2019 annual overall budget of $2.2 billion, other funding sources, and its goal to preserve or construct 300,000 housing units by 2026.

United States Government Accountability Office: Denver, Colorado

In consultation with the GAO, a capstone team will conduct research on an unregulated class of chemical contaminants known as PFAS which has been found in drinking water and ground water. Several states are developing safety standards, but currently there are no national guidelines in place. The capstone team will explore alternatives to PFAS use, health and safety implications, current efforts for regulation, clean up and related costs. The final report will provide information that can potentially be used to inform the development of standards for PFAS regulation at the national level. Related GAO Research:

Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County

The Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County, Inc. (DCTC) is a joint effort of local employers and public sector leaders dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion in Tompkins County. A capstone team will explore ways to strengthen and expand the impact and reach of the consortium. The team will provide a business plan to the client that offers tangible recommendations based on the organization’s budget, stated plans, goals, and priorities, and that support opportunities to increase membership, staff, and resources.

Access to College Education: Tompkins County, NY

The Access to College Education (ACE) program is a unique consortium of four institutions: Cornell University, Ithaca College, SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College, working in partnership with local school districts to provide extensive college and career readiness programming throughout the year. To showcase the impact of the partnership, a capstone student will explore ways to manage, maintain and utilize data collected over the last several years. This includes developing an evaluation and data management plan with a set of strategic recommendations to help meet the organization’s funding goals and overcome current staffing constraints.

Tompkins County Legislature/Tompkins County Human Services Coalition

Research will focus on whether Tompkins County should develop a source of income discrimination protection law for residents seeking rental housing. An analysis of comparable rental markets that have implemented source of income discrimination protection laws, as well as the characteristics of those laws and their impacts on the respective communities, will be the focus of the study. The capstone student will provide city case studies as well as recommendations for applicability in Ithaca and an overall assessment of the potential impacts of such a policy, if implemented in Tompkins County. Ithaca 2017 Fair Housing Assessment:

Inter-American Development Bank

As part of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Salud Mesoamerica Initiative, a results-based financing initiative that aims to decrease health inequities in eight countries in Central America, a capstone team will analyze data gathered from dozens of health facilities in Belize. The team will use health facility surveys to measure the relative impacts of intervention strategies implemented to improve access to and quality of care provided by health facilities since 2014. Upon completion of the data analysis, the team will draft an article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

United States Department of State

This capstone team will work with the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons office to provide in-depth research about the factors and processes, including (among others) policy development, prevention, enforcement, and funding, by which two countries – Cyprus and the Philippines – were able to improve their human trafficking records. This research will involve a comprehensive investigation of various in-country factors over a ten year period and highlight best practices that may be implemented in other countries aiming to combat human trafficking. Students will conduct interviews, analyze data, and review reports by the State Department and other relevant sources to complete their assessment.

Popayan Mayor’s Office: Popoyan, Colombia

A capstone student will build on the work of previous Brooks MPA Students to assist the Mayor’s Office in Popayan, Colombia, to develop their tourism economy. The project will involve developing a feasibility study of capacity for expanding the city’s airport routes and increasing road connections to nearby cities.

Atkinson Center Climate Migration

An interdisciplinary team of researchers, supported by Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, is studying the connection between weather factors and migration patterns in Mexico over the last 50 years. A capstone team will partner with the Atkinson research team to identify regions of interest in Mexico that are likely to experience strain due to climate change and provide recommendations of stakeholders who should be included in the research and who will potentially inform policy implementations aimed to mitigate climate impacts on the population. The project will continue for two years.


ProMexico is a nonprofit organization that has been working for 20 years to reduce poverty and expand opportunities for the indigenous peoples of Mexico. A capstone team will develop systems to gather, organize and analyze data to measure the organization’s impact in the communities it serves, and make recommendations for expanding the donor base to other countries.

AguaClara Reach

AguaClara Reach (ACR) is a nonprofit organization created by faculty, alumni and students of Cornell’s College of Engineering. Its mission is to provide universal access to safe water on tap. The organization provides key innovations, including water facility plans, to numerous UN member states and is now focused on assisting Honduras, Nicaragua and India in reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goal for Clean Water and Sanitation. In order to achieve this goal, ACR needs to expand its funding sources. A capstone student will identify and research potential financing options for ACR that align with its mission and allows them to maintain their commitment to open source technology (ie: making their source code publicly available so it can be used by others free of charge). The student will provide recommendations for fundraising, a governance structure utilizing volunteerism, and strategic partnerships.

Humanity Crew

Students in the MPA Program’s engaged learning courses have worked with Humanity Crew since fall 2017. This semester a capstone student is responsible for envisioning and creating a media strategy for Humanity Crew as a young but quickly growing organization committed to promoting refugee rights and mental health. This includes developing a plan to expand Humanity Crew’s current social media, mass media, and research presence. This project involves both theory and practice as the student will provide a completed sample of a specific media plan for an event in the larger strategy, including advance event communications and step-by-step plans for maximizing Humanity Crew’s presence in the media.

Bright Citizen

A capstone team will create a business plan for Bright Citizen, a social impact start-up based in Afghanistan with a focus on saffron/coffee cultivation/production and supporting education and employment opportunities for women working in this area and in other professions in which women have not traditionally participated.