Each master of public health (MPH) student must complete a capstone project prior to graduation. It is the final requirement for the MPH degree. The capstone project is based on a non-thesis, culminating master of public health experience.
Students demonstrate their mastery of public health competencies through:
- A formal paper (choose one):
- 20-30 page research paper/report
- Manuscript prepared for peer-reviewed public health journal
- An oral presentation (choose one):
- 10-minute presentation at a community organization (see guidelines and watch a video)
- Poster presentation at Department of Population Health Sciences annual event (see Poster guidelines and watch a video)
- 2-3 minute digital story (see digital story guidelines and view examples)
- An oral defense consisting of a meeting with the student's capstone committee to discuss capstone paper. Reference the capstone oral defense checklist for assistance with planning.
MPH students either must have completed, waived or are concurrently completing the public health field experience in order to present their capstone project.
The capstone is a requirement of the program; therefore students are not able to graduate unless they have completed this requirement. The requirement must be completed within two years of completing the MPH coursework.
All students are required to choose a three-member capstone committee. The capstone committee plays an important role during the development and completion of the capstone project. It is the MPH student’s responsibility to identify the three individuals who will provide guidance and advice for the capstone project and to communicate with these members throughout the development and completion of the project.
Evidence of completion of the MPH capstone requirement is provided following the student’s oral defense of the capstone project. Upon completion of the capstone requirement, the capstone committee signs the Capstone completion form and the student provides the original and a hard copy of the capstone paper to the MPH Program office.
The capstone committee and its members are responsible for guiding the student’s capstone project and determining whether the capstone project satisfactorily meets the MPH requirements.
Capstone committee composition
All capstone committees must consist of a minimum of three members. Some committee members may serve in more than one role (e.g., be a university faculty member and a public health program faculty, or have content expertise and from a community-based organization (local public health agency, community non-profit, public and private school, and/or governmental agency). The following conditions for capstone committee composition must be met for each student:
- At least one of the committee members must be a University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member who has principal investigator (PI) status at this institution.
- At least one committee member must be from the MPH Program’s public health program faculty.
- At least one of the committee members is from a community-based organization (local public health agency, community nonprofit, public or private school and/or governmental agency), outside the university to bring the public health practice perspective to the project. When the capstone project is based on the field experience, the capstone member is the student’s fieldwork preceptor.
- At least one member of the capstone committee should be chosen based on his/her expertise in the subject matter.
Capstone committee chair
The responsibilities of the capstone committee chair include serving as the primary contact for the student’s capstone project, helping students hone their interests, identifying career paths and providing support for career development. In addition, the capstone committee chair may provide a link to the campus community, resources and extracurricular activities, which serve to enhance the educational experience (such as seminars, conferences, speakers, professional meetings). The capstone committee chair serves as the PI on all institutional review board (IRB) proposals and chairs the oral defense.
Master of public health students should plan to identify a capstone committee chair by the end of the first semester in the program.
One member of the capstone committee must be from a community-based organization (local public health agency, community nonprofit, public or private school and/or governmental agency) outside the university to bring the public health practice perspective to the committee. The majority of MPH students complete their capstone projects based upon the work they have done in the field. In this circumstance, the second member of the capstone committee is the student’s fieldwork preceptor.
Additional capstone committee member
The third member of the capstone committee may be chosen from the program’s list of public health program faculty members or may be chosen based on his/her expertise in the subject matter. In the case where the student’s field experience is not tied to their capstone project, the faculty member who works with the student on said research or project would be an appropriate candidate for the student’s capstone committee.
Occasionally a student may choose a project in which the preceptor is a university-based faculty member. Despite the fact that this person serves a dual role on the committee, it is still a requirement to have three capstone committee members.
Sometimes there is an additional individual or faculty member beyond the three required members who can provide credence, expertise, or critical input to the capstone project. It is also acceptable to have more than three capstone committee members.
Capstone project proposal
Once the student has chosen a capstone committee chair, the student and the chair (and committee members, if appropriate) should begin to develop a topic for the project. After choosing the topic, the student is expected to write an eight- to 10-page (3,000-3500 word) capstone project proposal for review by the capstone committee chair and members.
The capstone project proposal should include the following:
- A 250-300 word structured abstract of the project that includes the following labels:
- A brief description of the public health problem or issue to be addressed in the project
- A review of the most relevant existing literature
- A description of the data that will be collected
- A description of the methodology that will be used to address the problem
- A description of plans for IRB approval, if needed
- A list of references used in the project proposal
Students may use a paper that has been written for one of the MPH courses as the basis for the capstone project proposal.
It is recommended that the student and members of the committee meet to discuss the proposal. The committee will then approve the capstone project. The student is responsible for completing the Capstone project proposal approval form, obtaining the proper signatures and submitting the form to the community engagement coordinator. The student should also provide copies of the proposal and approval form to each of the capstone committee members.