Group-Based Professional Projects
The Urban Planning and Regional Planning Program and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment both require master's students to complete group-based exit projects that work with actual clients from non-profits, local government or other organizations.
Urban Planning Capstone Projects
Overview: Capstone courses are intended to be the culmination of an Urban Planning student’s master’s program, at the end of their second year, to showcase the skills and content they learned through a professional product.
Timeline: These projects take one semester to complete (4 to 5 months). They are usually carried out during the winter semester (January to early May), though at least one capstone course runs each fall (September to early December). Usually 4 to 6 capstone courses are completed out each year.
When to initiate the process: If you are interested in being a community partner for a capstone project, you should contact the lead faculty member at least 6 months before the start of the project. Earlier is better as many faculty begin to plan their courses early, to ensure that they will have an appropriate project, sufficient time to attract students, etc. For a September start time, contact faculty at least by April of that year. For a January start time, contact faculty at least by July of the following year.
Types of students involved: Each course involves a multi-disciplinary group of 6-8 Masters of Urban and Regional Planning students.
Faculty involvement: A faculty member works closely with students and is the main contact to initially design and structure the Capstone project. However, students are expected to make most of the major decisions as they carry out the project.
Engagement required by the community partner: Engagement with the community partner – usually community groups, non-profits, and/or local governments – usually requires at least one meeting with the faculty member six months or so before the start date, several meetings with students during the semester, and attending the final student presentation.
Types of projects and deliverables: Capstone projects cover anything from housing to transportation, economic development, oral histories, economic development, health planning, food systems interventions, etc. Examples of past capstone deliverables can be seen here, which have included sector-specific plans, qualitative or quantitative (e.g., survey-based) studies, evaluations, literature/case study reviews of best practices, and other products. The idea is to develop something useful for the client.
My personal involvement: I have not personally led a capstone project yet, but would be ready to lead one by the fall of 2018 or winter of 2019. I would be most interested in food systems projects.
Cost: Some faculty members ask clients for a nominal fee to help cover student transportation costs and materials.
School of Natural Resources and the Environment Masters Projects
Overview: The School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) requires its Masters students to complete their two-year program with a professional group project, much like the Capstone experience urban planning students complete.
Timeline: These projects take a year to complete. Students usually begin talking with potential partners about projects in January, do the bulk of the work over the spring, summer and early fall, and then present their deliverable by November or December.
When to initiate the process: You should contact SNRE masters project coordinator by December of the year prior to the project start date, to be considered as a potential client and to have your project included in a “project fair” held for students in January where they self-select to work with interested community partners.
Types of students involved: SNRE students have both natural science backgrounds (i.e. who have studied soil science, watershed management, entomology, GIS, etc.) and social science backgrounds (i.e. who have studied policy, behavior change, organizational studies, business, etc.), so they come with a diverse set of skills. Groups are usually made up of 4 students.
Faculty involvement: Two faculty serve as advisors for these projects, usually from SNRE, but outside advisors can also participate. How much advisors get involved varies, but is usually less intensive than faculty who facilitate the Urban Planning Capstone projects.
Engagement required by the community partner: Engagement with community partners will vary based needs and the topic of the project, outlined on the website.
Types of projects and deliverables: Projects are diverse, but broadly focus on some aspect of natural resources and the environment. The project archive allows you to search through the diverse projects completed in the past.
My personal involvement: I served as one of the co-advisors to a group that worked with a food bank and farm incubator project in Lansing, but I would not be able to advise another group until the fall of 2018.
Cost: As the website notes, if clients can offer funding, office space or other support, this is desirable but not required.