Graham School News

Developing Skills while Building Industry Connections through the Master of Science in Threat and Response Management Capstone Project

Philip Baker

As a culminating experience in UChicago's Master of Science in Threat and Response Management program, the capstone project gives students the opportunity to solve a real-world emergency management problem while producing original academic research. Drawing on the knowledge and skills gained through the program, students develop and implement their solution while networking and exploring potential employment partnerships, concluding their project with a presentation and a written report suited for inclusion on resumes.

Program staff curates a portfolio of capstone projects spanning a variety of topics. Project sponsors include industry partners, governmental agencies, and alumni. Instructors of the program are asked to be scientific advisors, based on their area of expertise, and they guide and mentor students throughout the entire capstone process. Students form two- to three-person teams at the beginning of their second year and are matched with projects fitting their areas of interest.

Capstone sponsors contribute to a catalog of challenging and timely projects that give students the option to go deeper into their chosen fields or expand into new areas of emergency management they’ve always hoped to contribute to. The process allows students the opportunity to develop crisis communication skills and fine-tune their abilities as researchers and problem solvers.

Capstone classes are scheduled during the three quarters of students’ second year. During the first quarter, teams assess the scope and goals of their project while developing a plan for implementation. In meetings with their project sponsors, they determine the project’s parameters and its timeline while bringing everything together in a proposal that is ultimately approved by their sponsor.

Over the course of the second quarter, teams are expected to spend approximately 80-100 hours implementing the project. While conducting their research and analyzing results, teams check in weekly with their sponsors, either onsite or remotely, and receive feedback and strategic advice for continuing to move their project forward in the right direction.

In the third quarter, students conclude their research, write their final paper, and develop a presentation for the annual capstone showcase, to which sponsors, instructors, and students are all invited. 

In years past, capstone projects have covered the spectrum of the field of emergency management, including projects that have developed emergency response plans for organizations in both the private and public sectors, as well as ones that have sought to further integrate the deployment of new technologies in the field of disaster response.

In 2019, for instance, a team worked closely with the City of Chicago to further a program centered around developing and deploying small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), or drones, for emergency response. Hampered by meager funding and difficult institutional coordination, the city’s sUAS group saw significant benefit in partnering with the UChicago team, who brought their extensive work experience and academic knowledge to bear on the problem at no cost. 

After consulting with fire departments in other US cities with drone programs already in place, the capstone team went on to produce a policy document focusing on best practices. They also developed a message map that included a strategy the sUAS group could use to convey a unified message when presenting their proposals to the city and the public. In this way, not only did the team hone important skills learned during their time in the program, they also produced a deliverable ready for their resumes and future steps in their careers. 

Established as an opportunity for students to solve an actual emergency management problem while using the academic knowledge and skills developed in the program, the MScTRM Capstone project builds on these founding goals by providing students with connections to industry that will prove invaluable as they move forward and grow in their careers.