"What's fun about research is it can take you in directions you aren't expecting. As you uncover things in your lit review, you learn so much you never knew. I love to learn!" - Maddy Oritt, MPA class of 2016
When you think about the spring, what comes to mind? For many students, March Madness, spring break, and balmier weather are at the top of the list. For the Martin School, spring brings something special-- Capstone Projects. A cornerstone of the MPA and MPP programs, the Capstone Project is the culmination of 4 semesters of learning. This semester, we will follow the MPA and MPP class of 2016 through their journey in a blog series.
What's a Capstone?
The Capstone is not just a master's thesis. Using the skills and knowledge developed in the classroom and in internships, students select a research question of interest to them that assesses a policy problem. The finished product is a research paper that provides quantitative and qualitative analysis. These papers are then presented to a panel of practitioners from the community.
Class of 2016
Dr. Petrovsky is working with this year's cohort of students on their projects. At this time, most students have defined their research question. Many have chosen issues of equity and education to study. We spoke with MPA students Maddy Oritt and Lauren Kesselring about their projects focusing on finance. Maddy will be graduating with concentrations in healthcare and financial management, and Lauren with a concentration in financial management. Both are being advised by Dr. Denison on their projects.
Asking the Right Question
Maddy is researching the financial implications of Medicaid expansion, especially on hospital revenues. "The ACA is a big topic right now. But because there's a lag on data, and since the expansion just went in to effect in 2014, I am doing a preliminary analysis," she explains. As a highly politicized and complex policy area, she is excited to further her knowledge through her research. Maddy started thinking about her Capstone Project last summer when she interned at a hospital. Like Maddy, Lauren also developed her Capstone Project based on her experiences outside the classroom. Put simply, Lauren's research question centers around the optimal contingency fund size for a municipality. This very question came up at the mayor's office, where Lauren works, for the city of Lexington.
The To Do List
Now that they've done the heavy lifting of defining the scope of their projects, both ladies are busy with their next steps. Lauren says she's currently "doing data collection, pulling information from CAFRs, and contacting people from other municipalities to fill in missing data." Maddy is juggling finishing up her literature review, finalizing her methodology, and collecting data.
Bumps in the Road
It's rare that worthwhile projects are easy. Each Capstone presents its own unique challenges. Data lag is at the top of the list for Maddy with Medicaid expansion. "It's easy to get excited about current issues, but if data isn't available yet, it's hard to dive in. Figuring out the controls will be interesting, too," Maddy says. Lauren's biggest mountain to climb is the opposite-- comparing changing government standards over decades. "How do you make 15 - 20 years' worth of data conform to one standard?" she asks. She plans on working closely with her Capstone advisor, Dr. Denison, to address that.
Although they have a lot of work ahead of them, both students are looking forward to it. Maddy finds it rewarding to do research in such a relevant policy area that affects people today. Lauren expressed a similar sentiment-- "Literature has a void in municipal contingency fund research. No one has addressed question in my scope. It's something that policy makers at work don't really have a good answer to, and it can impact everyone in the county." We look forward to their contributions to public administration!