By Matthew Kredell

Master of Public Administration (MPA) online students at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy cap off their degrees with a capstone project that makes a real-world impact. The stakes were even higher than usual for a group of MPA online students when they stepped in to help a small nonprofit survive recent leadership transitions. Their work on the project ultimately earned them the 2020 Haynes Award for outstanding capstone project of the year.

Photo courtesy of Milan Smith

The Colorado Institute of Music, an organization that engages with young children to enhance their life and social skills with music, is a client unlike any other the MPA program has seen. MPA students Milan Smith, Blanca Gavino Arvizu, Trey de la Pena and Celso Templo Jr. conducted a literature review, synthesized best practices from 60 comparable organizations and conducted interviews with four executives at similarly situated nonprofits. Recommendations made by the capstone group in their 140-page report included fundraising strategies, nonprofit marketing, how to keep donors engaged, use of social media and technology, and creating different revenue streams.

“The capstone really put that all together and showed we have an understanding of how to do this work. The client was thrilled with the work we did, and that affirmed we were able to apply what we learned into practice and make a real impact,” said Milan Smith.

The nonprofit’s leaders, Mark and Leah Creek Biesterfeld, were blown away by the quality of the report and see it as a road map for how the institute will continue and grow in future years.

The 2020 Capstone Award Winners and Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention Focuses on Homelessness

The 2020 Haynes Award honorable mention was awarded to Jennifer Hsu, Kate Kelly, John Rogers and Nita Talwar who worked with St. Patrick’s Center in Wilmington, Delaware to develop a strategic plan for its homeless respite center. The students evaluated the organization and created a strategic plan to improve existing services and add new ones based on a thorough literature review, best practice research, and expert interviews.

“We looked at the short term and what the client could do without straining resources, then midrange suggestions require a little more thought, resources and time, and things really need to be fleshed out and planned to reach the long-term plans,” Kate Kelly said. “I like that we gave suggestions for what they can do quickly and what will take a little more strategy to get done.”

Originally posted on USC Price News