The first class of seniors in the global affairs major will work on capstone projects next semester for clients ranging from the World Bank to a United States Department of Energy laboratory, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs announced Monday.
The capstone projects, which replace the senior essay or project requirement common to other majors, are designed to give students in global affairs hands-on experience with policy work. While some universities make similar real-world projects a component of master’s programs, Director of the Jackson Institute James Levinsohn and Director of the Capstone Projects Sean Smith said they do not know of any requirement comparable to Yale’s at the undergraduate level. Eight global affairs majors interviewed after the announcement said they were pleased by the diverse project offerings and said the capstones were a main attraction when they applied to enter the newly created major last year.
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“It’s an extremely unique and awesome opportunity to advise a real client,” Eric Levine ’13 said. “I look forward to the level of responsibility. Our assignments for the class will have a real impact.”
Rising seniors in the major will rank their preferences for the projects in the coming weeks and be assigned to one of six projects, which include a study of armed groups operating in Western Africa for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey and a project on cybersecurity for Pacific Northwest National Laboratories of Richland, Wash., by the end of the semester. Three projects emphasize international security and three focus on international development — corresponding to the two tracks of the global affairs major — but they are designed so that students from both tracks can complete any of the options, global affairs Director of Undergraduate Studies Susan Hyde told the roughly 40 students at the announcement in Luce Hall Monday evening.
In an interview with the News, Smith described the projects as a “bridge” between typical classroom work global affairs majors have done at Yale and the type of work they might do postgraduation.
“These are going to be different kinds of classes than they’ve ever done before,” Smith said. “It’s going to challenge them in different ways.”
Eight to 10 students will collaborate on each project, and will attend weekly in-class meetings with an instructor who has expertise in their project’s area. The projects will require students to conduct research in the area their client selects and to produce reports of that research that the clients can then use in their operations, Smith said.
He added that the Jackson Institute has funding available to support travel for the projects, for students who need to visit their clients or conduct off-campus interviews for their research.
Capstone projects that involve working for nongovernmental organizations and government agencies exist as part of master’s programs at some other universities. Students in master’s of public administration programs at both New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs are required as part of their degree to work in teams on projects for client organizations.
Smith said he spoke to some professors that oversaw master’s level capstone courses at other universities, but that he and Levinsohn “had a pretty clear sense of what we wanted to do” when creating Yale’s capstones. Smith said he and Levinsohn approached potential clients between July 2011 and this January.
Smith emphasized that the results of the first year of capstones will significantly impact the global affairs major going forward.
“The reputation of this program is going to be to a large degree built by what [the first class of seniors] produce, and how the experience goes for this set of clients,” Smith said. “That’s an enormous opportunity for these particular students to influence the experiences that everyone who comes after them will have.”
Global affairs majors interviewed said they have looked forward to the capstone projects since they applied to the global affairs major. Two of eight students interviewed said they had feared one project would be more appealing than the others, but added that they felt satisfied with all the options after the announcement.
Sam Dorward ’13 said he thought the directors of the global affairs major had “hyped up” the projects, but that the projects lived up to those high expectations.
The global affairs major was approved in December 2010.