CIPA capstone projects foster change near and far

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Melissa Osgood

Students and faculty members packed the annual Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) capstone reception Dec. 5 to view poster presentations by graduate students, who have spent the semester analyzing real-world issues for clients and developing recommendations.

The projects are made possible through Cornell’s relationships with domestic and international NGOs and governmental organizations. Each student group chose a client to work with over the course of the semester, and through in-depth interviews, field studies and survey data worked to find meaningful solutions. Several groups had the opportunity to travel to their client’s location to gain insight into the community environment and structure.

“[Our client] provided a wide array of information and resources that the CIPA capstone team took full advantage of when we initiated our research,” said Michael Foley, MPA ’17. The collaboration between the student groups and the client organization allowed students to join ongoing efforts and help in the process of figuring out what is most needed in the communities they aim to serve.

Projects ranged from developing reintegration strategies for child soldiers in Uganda to improving funding for the Ithaca Health Alliance, a community-based health care cooperative. Some of the international projects involved communities that relied heavily on agricultural systems facing economic and environmental challenges, and students worked to find solutions to revitalize development and growth. Others focused on analyzing policies already in place, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program in New York City, to examine efficacy and provide recommendations for further implementation. While the subject matter spanned government and environmental policy to nonprofit management, the projects all displayed an in-depth understanding of their focus populations and the issues at hand.

Capstone students repeatedly remarked on how much they enjoyed working on real-world problems and spoke of the satisfaction they gained from being so engaged in current policy issues. “Since it’s a professional master’s, this type of applied work experience is very important to us,” said Ana Alvarez Vijil, a teaching assistant for the capstone course.

The capstone experience epitomizes CIPA’s goal of complementing students’ solid academic preparation with hands-on, practical experiences.

“CIPA courses give you more of a holistic perspective, from varied angles on different policy or execution matters,” said Arpit Chatuvedi, MPA ’18. “It’s basically training your brain on how to approach different policy issues.”

Through the capstone project students fine-tune their area of interest and gain experience in the policy world many said they hope to enter upon graduating the program.

Rebecca Jackson ’18 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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