Kai Nip, Staff Photographer

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled in-person instruction, the global affairs major’s capstone project has adapted to the public health situation, according to students and faculty.

Four students in the global affairs major, along with Director of Undergraduate Studies Sigrídur Benediktsdottir, spoke with the News about how the Capstone Course — which each global affairs major is required to complete in their senior fall — operated remotely. Overall, five students and faculty told the News that the project was well-managed and productive despite the pandemic. They added that the experiences lost to remote learning were insignificant, especially compared to the successes in replicating many of the aspects of the project.

“Everybody in my group found afterwards that it was potentially our most memorable class and experience at Yale [despite the pandemic],” Jonathan Altman ’21. “We made the best of the situation and because the potential for this course is that it could be everybody’s best course that they take at Yale, even if it comes up at 80 percent of what it could have been, that’s still pretty good.”

Altman said that one of the advantages of being online was that by the start of the fall semester, many experts and professionals were comfortable attending and organizing online meetings — which meant that the students had a broader array of experts than usual to call on for help with their research.

In the capstone project, students working in teams are tasked with helping to solve a public policy issue for a non-profit organization, government body or private sector firm. Past projects include working with UNICEF’s supply division and the United States Special Operations Command

Despite being remote, some teams were able to replicate the collaborative element of the project, according to Altman.

“One thing our group did really well is that we had really strong collaboration and had a fun and friendly vibe,” Altman said.

Including social elements within classes meant that students and their faculty advisors “formed a really good rapport and it made that team experience aspect of it really good,” Nico Moscoso ’21 said.

While some groups may have been able to replicate many facets of the capstone experience, both Altman and Beneditskdottir recognized that the biggest loss of the year was the seniors’ ability to travel to conduct research.

“Almost every capstone group gets to do some sort of travel, and a lot of people signed up for specific ones because they were under the impression that they would be able to travel to these places,” Altman said.

Typically, Global Affairs students get to visit their client for three to seven days in the summer before their senior year, or during senior fall break.

“I am certain that some of them are disappointed to not be able to travel in the way that usually is done in the capstone, but at the same time I know many of the [student] project leaders did superb things to try make them feel like they were really in the spots,” Benediktsdottir said.

This included virtual tours of the locations that the students ordinarily would have visited — including Kenya and multiple countries in Latin America.

But Benediktsdottir noted that the travel that seniors usually get to do is only one small part of the experience of being a Jackson student.

“I think the main issue is the cooperation between students to figure out how to solve an issue,” Benediktsdottir said.

Moscoso and Brenda Cachay ’21 agreed that despite all of the challenges that the pandemic has presented, the senior project was a positive experience. Moscoso described it as “as good as you could hope a virtual experience to be.” Cachay said that, despite her worries that the Institute would be unable to attract a diverse group of clients during the pandemic, the projects that students were able to work on were engaging and compelling. 

But both students noted the lack of social interaction was an undeniable loss this year. Ordinarily, they said, students on the same team would spend hours working together in person during the week — which would enable both a social and academic relationship to develop.

They also echoed the sentiments of Benediktsdottir and Altman, suggesting that the element of travel was not as important as it is often made out to be and that, above all, the most important element of the capstone project is dealing with the issue at hand in a collaborative way. 

“I certainly don’t feel cheated,” said Moscoso.

Moscoso and Altman also both noted the impact of faculty input on the capstone project. Altman told the News that Jackson faculty were responsive to emails and provided teams with “tremendous help.”

Andrew Song ’22 expressed disappointment primarily in the impact the pandemic has had on the ability to travel. However, Benediktsdottir suggested that, given the rollout of vaccines in the United States and the possibility of most Yale students being vaccinated relatively soon, travel may be possible next year — although it depends on the state of the pandemic globally.

The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs is in the process of transitioning to a school, which is expected to be completed in 2022.

Philip Mousavizadeh | philip.mousavizadeh@yale.edu

Philip Mousavizadeh covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously covered the Jackson Institute. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics