(4 credits)

Most Elliott School Master’s programs require a culminating experience during the student’s final year of study at the Elliott School. In lieu of a thesis, M.I.S. students complete a capstone course sequence.

The goal of the Capstone is to help students: plan, implement and present a group-designed, research-based project. The final products should make defensible policy recommendations that can be showcased as the culminating experience of a student’s time at The George Washington University. Although capstones are conducted under the guidance of a faculty member, groups have considerable agency throughout the process and are encouraged to be ambitious.

Completing a Capstone

All Capstone projects will demonstrate the ability to take an idea from conception to final presentation, combine academic knowledge, research, and professional skills into a coherent product. Project management skills, briefing and public speaking skills, and analytic and policy relevant work will also be exhibited through the project. In addition, completion of the capstone within a group setting will demonstrate the ability of group members to collaborate as a group and negotiate.

Through this process students must move beyond reporting factual information and spinning narratives to doing analytical work of use to the target audience. This means finding a good question (not just a research area). Ideally groups will want a puzzle that can be framed as a ‘why’ or a ‘how’ question.

At the end of the capstone experience each group will have produced several deliverables.

  1. A written product with policy recommendations.
  2. A final briefing to a professional audience.
  3. Various methodological outputs — both quantitative and qualitative.

Dissemination might additionally include:

  1. A podcast
  2. A product for a client
  3. A website
  4. A product targeted at a particular audience

The bottom line: The Capstone is a product for your resume demonstrating combined academic and professional skills.

Capstone Course Credit

IAFF 6898 (1 Credit): Capstone Workshop - During the 1-credit capstone workshop, students will refine the policy question of the capstone project, develop a research strategy and select appropriate research methods, and begin their research.

IAFF 6899 (3 Credits): Capstone Course - The 3-credit capstone course will involve the bulk of the student group's research, the completion of the capstone report, and an oral presentation of research findings and recommendations.

Each capstone course is supervised by a policy expert who determines both its topic and its specific format. In most cases, students are organized into small groups or teams, each of which is given responsibility to examine one aspect, or study one case, related to their project's overall theme. The teams develop a plan of action and assign specific tasks to their individual members. The work of each individual is often incorporated into a final written "product" summarizing research results and/or presenting policy options. Students in each project may also organize an oral presentation of their findings. In many cases, outside experts in the areas under investigation are invited to act either as resources or to evaluate the project's final conclusions and recommendations.

Capstone Process Timeline

The following timeline begins in April of the student’s first year and continues through the student’s second year. (Part-time students and MIS students do not have a two-year timeline but the same dates will apply). Students present and submit their capstones in April and May of their second year in the program.

(of first year)
Students attend a Capstone Mixer to form groups and meet the Capstone faculty*
June 1 Students must commit to completing capstone
Summer Students form groups
September First class session, finalization of groups. Students attend a mandatory Capstone Workshop*
October Proposal and Prospectus due
November–March Research and writing
April Presentations

*MIS students or students studying abroad will participate in these events virtually, pending approval from their program director. They are expected to stay updated with the material covered via email.

Capstone Examples

Past capstone groups have developed strategies for human rights organizations seeking engagement with the private sector; researched the connections between international education and foreign policy; analyzed international finance for developing and transition economies; explored the role of the Department of Defense in the making and implementation of national security decisions, with particular attention to the war on terrorism; researched partnerships between non-government organizations (NGOs) and government; and explored the intersection between formulating effective national security positions and successful presidential campaigns.


Guidelines for Thesis Directors (.pdf)

Useful Research Methods Courses to Prepare for a Capstone or Thesis