Master of Science in Threat and Response Management
Capstone Project Guidance
Introduction to the Capstone Project
The capstone project is a degree requirement of the Master of Science in Threat and Response Management Program. Students complete their capstone projects during the last three quarters of the program. Students will use the skills and experience gained during the program to complete an emergency management project with a sponsoring organization. The projects are conducted in groups of two students with mentorship from the student’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), consisting of scientific advisors and capstone sponsor as well as the capstone course instructors.
Students register for three capstone classes that occur in three consecutive quarters during their second year: Autumn, Winter, and Spring.
Writing and Presentation
In the first of the three courses, Capstone Project Proposal, students will develop their project. They will turn a problem statement, whether provided by a sponsor or developed independently, into an actionable plan for research. In the second course, Capstone Project Implementation, students will complete the bulk of their research. Even though research may or will have already gotten underway during the first course, students will be completing the bulk of their interviews, surveys, quantitative analyses and / or other data collection methodologies during the winter quarter. In the third and final quarter, Capstone Project Writing & Presentation, students may complete their data collection and will write/revise the final capstone paper, the written deliverable for the sponsor, and a presentation that summarizes their work.
All students must meet standards for satisfactory academic progress as outlined in the Graham Student Manual to begin their capstone project. Students must not be on probation, must not have incomplete courses, and must possess at least a 3.00 cumulative GPA. Because the capstone sequence involves university-industry partnerships, a high degree of professionalism is expected of students during all phases of the capstone project.
Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) Mentorship
The SAC provides mentorship and guidance to student teams throughout the capstone process. The SAC comprises 1-2 MScTRM instructors1, who serve as scientific advisors, and at least one representative from the capstone sponsor organization. Even though the scientific advisor and capstone sponsor are both on the SAC and may share certain competencies, they have distinct roles in the guidance and oversight they provide students.
Program staff match MScTRM instructors as scientific advisors to capstone projects based on their subject matter expertise in an area of emergency management. Scientific advisors should be regularly updated on progress on the project throughout the capstone process because they will grade the final capstone paper and presentation. In addition, they can advise students on appropriate sources, methodologies, and perspectives for their projects so that they can produce professionally relevant and rigorous research.
Primary advisors should be available for every meeting to provide guidance and feedback. Secondary advisors will attend meetings if their schedules allow. Both advisors should be included in meeting invites, progress update emails, etc. Both advisors will be grading final paper and presentation at the end of the Capstone Writing and Presentation quarter.
Meetings with scientific advisors should be held each quarter as follows:
- Proposal Course: meet at least three times or approximately once per month to share finalized project scope and solicit feedback and subject matter advice.
- Implementation Course: meet at least three times or approximately once per month to discuss data collection methodologies and preliminary analyses to ensure that high quality research is being conducted.
- Writing & Presentation Course: meet at least three times or approximately once per month to discuss the final analyses, conclusions and recommendations derived from the research to ensure that the final capstone paper and presentation are thorough and rigorous
The capstone sponsor provides direct oversight and supervision of the student team by guiding the goals and scope of the project. Typically, sponsors are seeking solutions to specific problems or aim to gain an understanding of issues of particular importance and relevance to their work. To ensure that student teams are working according to the expectations of the sponsor, student teams should connect with the capstone sponsor throughout the year. The meetings should occur as follows:
- Proposal Course: two to three times to discuss and set project goals, scope, and deliverables.
- Implementation Course: weekly or bi-weekly to report on findings and progress in data collection and to adjust the goals and scope of the project if necessary.
- Writing & Presentation Course: two to three times to discuss findings and conclusions; and to confirm the structure of the final deliverable for the sponsor2.
The capstone instructors will also work closely with students. As social scientists and writing experts, they provide guidance on the research process (generally) including research methods, the structure of the written work, the logic of the analyses and writing. The instructors are there to address confusion, set expectations for the level of work that is required, explain the principles of research, help student teams work together and organize their work, provide advice on how to address the concerns of the SAC and teach principles of writing. Capstone instructors will also meet with students between quarters. Students will meet with capstone instructors as follows:
- Proposal Course: during the monthly course meetings and by student team, at least once a month. Student teams are invited to meet with the capstone instructors whenever they have questions.
- Implementation Course: during the monthly course meetings and by student team, at least once a month. Student teams are invited to meet with the capstone instructors whenever they have questions.
- Writing & Presentation Course: during the monthly course meetings and by student team, at least once a month. Student teams are invited to meet with the capstone instructors whenever they have questions.
Finding a Project
MScTRM staff curate a catalog of projects for student teams and match students to these projects based on their preferences, skills, and professional experience. Even though matching to a project from the catalog is preferred, students may suggest a project idea. Please see below for details on matching to a project and requirements for proposing a project.
MScTRM project catalog
The MScTRM program has academic, industry, and non-profit partners that sponsor projects. Descriptions of these projects will be shared prior to the start of the Capstone Proposal Course. The program staff and MSTR 33301 instructor will facilitate the matching process between organizations and students by initiating an introductory communication between the student and the sponsor. The final decision on whether the student will be matched to the project will rest with the sponsor organization.
Student proposed project
If a student has a relevant project from an employer or network that could be submitted as a capstone project, it must be approved by the MScTRM program staff and the MSTR 33301 instructor. The proposed project is required to be different from day-to-day work duties and must have a detailed scope and goals that address the needs of the sponsor and the field of emergency management. The student team must identify a capstone sponsor who would provide adequate supervision and must work with the sponsor to decide on a final deliverable for the sponsor. If a student is interested in moving forward with an independently proposed project, the project problem statement and description must be submitted in advance of the start of the autumn quarter by the deadline communicated by the capstone project administrator.
Capstone Final Paper
At the end of the spring quarter of the capstone process, student teams will submit a research paper to the MScTRM program. This paper may also be submitted to the capstone sponsor. (Sponsors may require additional, written deliverable(s). See below.) All final papers will have the essential components of an academic paper (e.g., table of contents, problem statement, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, references, and appendices) and should be no more than 50 pages in length (not counting references and appendices.
Even though every team must submit a final academic research paper as a degree and capstone requirement, students may also be required by their sponsor to develop a written product that is different from the capstone paper. This should be discussed with the capstone sponsor during the Capstone Proposal Course. The following are examples of deliverables which may be requested by a sponsor:
- White Paper - A white paper advocates for a certain technical position or solution/tool (e.g., best practices or guidelines) to address a particular problem.
- Data analysis, research summary and report on results – The specific format should be discussed. with the sponsor.
- Emergency operations plan (EOP).
- Policy brief.
- Capstone Project Confidentiality – Some industry partners may also require that students keep certain data and work product confidential, including in some cases the identity of the sponsor. As a condition of participation in such a project, students may be asked to agree to grant such rights to the applicable sponsor and comply with any applicable confidentiality requirements and / or data sharing agreements. If any confidentiality, learning, or data sharing agreements are required, please inform the instructor. Please contact the MScTRM course instructor and program staff if you have any questions or concerns about intellectual property.
During the first quarter of the project (Autumn), students will develop a capstone project proposal. In this graded course, students will complete different sections of the proposal as assignments and will revise their work to produce a strong draft by the end of the quarter. In addition, students will be required to meet with scientific advisors and sponsors on a regular basis. (See below.) All assignments are set by the MSTR 33301 instructor and are included in the syllabus on the Canvas course site. Note: Peers will be asked to provide feedback on the work of their partner. Sponsors will also be asked to provide feedback on the work of the student teams.
Sections of the Proposal
The project proposal includes all of the following sections. (These should be reviewed with your SAC before collecting data in the winter quarter.)
- The problem statement should include a brief description of the emergency management problem.
- Research questions should indicate the goals of the research.
- The background section should provide context for the problem that will be addressed. This could include descriptions of the organizations that may be part of the focus of the research, history of laws that are pertinent to the problem, discussions of emergency management concepts and considerations that are relevant to the problem, and the like. The precise content of the background section will depend on the problem being addressed in the research. Again, the background section establishes the context and the relevant information that would make the problem intelligible.
- The Literature Review includes a review of the relevant literature pertaining to the proposed problem/project. The purpose is to establish what is already known about the focus of research and to determine if there are gaps in the research. The literature review also presents controversies and debates. The literature review can provide the rationale for the research that the TRM student team is undertaking. The precise content will depend on the project.
- The methodology section lays out the anticipated methods that will be used for data collection. It will also include the type of analyses that will be conducted and what type of data will be needed. Methods that have been previously used include, but are not limited to, surveying and interviewing professionals in the field, conducting a case study, reviewing media reports, and analyzing quantitative data.
- A timeline of dates by which each step and milestone will be accomplished should be included, along with a description of any potential obstacles.
Note: Proposals should present a well-defined project, but projects continue to evolve. A proposal cannot anticipate all the insights and challenges that would cause the project to change. However, the proposal still helps to guide the project. As the year progresses, sections of the proposal will be revised and will eventually be included in the final paper.
A project that involves human subjects must be reviewed by the University of Chicago Institutional Review Board (IRB). According to the UChicago Social and Behavioral (SBS) IRB office, human subjects research includes but is not limited to:
- Studies that collect new data through intervention or interaction with individuals (e.g., interviews, surveys) and yield information about the individuals including their opinions, views, and thoughts on various topics (e.g., surveys about alcohol consumption, interviews on experience with active shooter situations),
- Studies that produce generalizable knowledge about categories or classes of subjects from individually identifiable information, or
- Studies that use human beings to evaluate environmental alterations, for example, weatherization options or habitat modifications to their living or working space or test chamber.
Students must submit project details to the capstone instructors by the deadline established and no later than the start of month two of the Capstone Proposal course, see supporting document “MScTRM IRB Review.” The instructional team will aggregate project information and submit to the director of the SBS IRB who will determine whether each project must submit an application online via AURA.
In the winter quarter, the student team will execute the research plan outlined in the capstone proposal. Student teams are expected to spend at least 100 hours on the project throughout each quarter (equivalent to the time spent on a typical 100-unit course), but research can be unpredictable, and more time may be required. This course is graded. To ensure that students stay on track with their data collection and analyses, the MSTR 33302 instructor will require assignments that share preliminary data collection results and analyses. These are included in the syllabus on the Canvas course site. Note: Peers will be asked to provide feedback on the work of their partner. Sponsors will also be asked to provide feedback on the work of the student teams. During the Capstone Implementation Course, students are expected to adhere to the following:
Regular Communication with the Sponsor
The project proposal should include a timeline and description of communication with the sponsor, including how and when check-ins will occur. Students should be checking in with their sponsors on a regular basis, whether that means weekly or biweekly, and in-person or virtually. Students should report any obstacles to fulfilling this requirement to the capstone instructor and program staff.
Regular Communication with Scientific Advisors
The project proposal should include a timeline and description of communication with scientific advisors. Regular communication with the scientific advisor about progress, course corrections, and challenges will help manage uncertainty. Regular meetings with scientific advisors will also help address unexpected outcomes, will help avoid errors in the analysis, and will help strengthen the methods and results. Bi-weekly to weekly check-ins are recommended. Students should report any obstacles to fulfilling this requirement to the capstone instructor and program staff.
All students must abide by the sponsor and University of Chicago standards for professional behavior, appearance, and communications during the capstone sequence. When students are working on their capstone project, they are representing themselves, their group, and the University of Chicago as emergency management professionals. If the expectations are unclear regarding onsite business attire, the sponsor should be contacted before visiting the site. Because capstone projects involve crucial communications with the sponsor and/or with the MScTRM team, UChicago email should be used for all official interactions. Voicemail should be checked regularly for sponsor communication as well.
Even though student teams may still be finalizing data collection and approaches to the analysis, the writing and presentation course in spring focuses on writing and revising the final paper and presentation. Throughout the year, teams will have been writing the project. In the final course of the sequence, student teams will bring together different drafts of the sections of the paper, add new sections and revise where necessary. Students will be graded on assignments created by the MSTR 33303 instructor. Assignments mainly consist of drafts of various sections of the paper. Due dates are included in the syllabus on the Canvas course site. Note: Peers will be asked to provide feedback on the work of their partner. Sponsors will also be asked to provide feedback on the work of the student teams. Requirements include:
To complete the requirements of the MScTRM Program, student teams will submit a final paper. (An additional deliverable for the sponsor may be determined with the sponsor.) Students must MASTER OF SCIENCE IN THREAT AND RESPONSE MANAGEMENT 8 keep in mind that no matter the deliverable for the sponsor, the final paper must include the following elements3:
- Table of contents
- Executive summary
- Statement of problem
- Research questions
- Literature review
- Appendices (as needed)
All capstone students are expected to develop a presentation of their work and provide a project summary at the MScTRM Capstone Showcase in spring. All team members are expected to speak during their presentation.
Presentation Format and Help
Students will develop the presentation using a PowerPoint template that is accessible on the Canvas capstone course sites. Students are expected to reach out to their SAC to solicit feedback, practice, and fine-tune the presentation. Students should be prepared to rehearse their presentations before the showcase.
Elements of the Presentation
Presentations must include key elements from the proposal and final document such as:
- Brief statement of the problem.
- Recommendations that emerged from the research.
- Brief review of background and the literature review.
- Methodology Results and findings.
- Recap of the recommendations and how they relate to the research.
- Next steps for the organization or field of emergency management.
Capstone Project Grading
The grade for MSTR 33303 Capstone Writing & Presentation will comprise the following elements:
The final academic research paper will account for a major percentage of the final grade. It is graded by the scientific advisor(s). The final paper and / or the deliverable for the sponsor will be shared with the capstone sponsor.
Capstone Showcase Presentation and Q&A
Scientific advisors will score their assigned presentations during the capstone showcase and provide written feedback. All scores will be averaged and included in the final course grade.
Course assignments as outlined in syllabus by instructional team
Note: The weighting of each component will be outlined on the Canvas capstone course site and syllabus
MScTRM Capstone Project Timeline
Before Capstone (Summer Quarter)
- Attend or review a capstone information session.
- Update resumes.
Capstone Proposal (Pre-Autumn Quarter)
- Review capstone project catalog.
- Complete the Capstone Preferences Survey.
- Complete all pre-quarter assignments as outlined by MSTR 33301 instructor and capstone administrator.
- Complete the capstone checklist.
- Prepare for the IRB process by completing CITI training and applying for an AURA account.
- Get matched with a project.
- Hold introductory meeting with the sponsor, scientific advisors and capstone instructors.
Capstone Proposal (Autumn Quarter)
- Complete all assignments as outlined by MSTR 33301 instructor.
- Regularly meet with the sponsor to finalize project scope, goals for the capstone paper and the deliverables for the sponsor.
- Regularly meet with scientific advisors to receive feedback on sections of the project proposal.
- Submit project information to capstone instructors for determination of IRB application.
- Submit final capstone project proposal.
- Complete peer evaluations.
Implementation (Winter Quarter)
- Complete all assignments as outlined by MSTR 33302 instructor.
- Execute project plan: conduct research, collect data and follow expectations defined in the capstone proposal.
- Check in (weekly or bi-weekly) with sponsor contact.
- Check in (weekly or bi-weekly) with scientific advisors.
- Share assignments with scientific advisors.
- Complete peer evaluations.
Writing and Presentation (Spring Quarter)
- Complete all assignments as outlined by MSTR 33303 instructor.
- Check in with SAC while writing the final paper and presentation.
- Complete peer evaluations.
- Submit final capstone project paper.
- Develop capstone project presentation.
- Present at the MScTRM Capstone Showcase.
- The program may also approve non-MScTRM faculty as a scientific advisor under special circumstances.
- It is possible that the sponsor will request a deliverable that is different from the capstone paper. For more information, please reach out to the capstone instructor.
- Sections may be subject to change. Students should refer to the materials posted on the Canvas sites for the capstone courses by the capstone instructor.