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Spring 2017 Capstone: Get to know the teams

Students in the final stage of their graduate education at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs (SPPUA) are putting learning into action. Working in small interdisciplinary teams, they are applying the knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom to address challenging, client-oriented capstone projects.

With less than a month until graduation, the teams are wrapping up their research and getting ready for their capstone presentations on Wednesday, April 26, at 5 p.m. in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.

Here, we introduce you to the 10 teams and their capstone projects.


Affordable housing

SPPUA students Grace Ndalla-Watino, Christopher Crisanti and James Tarr have teamed up with three Harvard Graduate School of Design students, one architect student from MIT, and one Harvard Kennedy School student to compete in an Affordable Housing Development Competition, hosted annually by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.

Their mission is to develop an innovative affordable housing plan for David Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority, who is interested in creating affordable housing for senior citizens on a 34-acre site owned by UMASS Lowell. The capstone team is proposing to replace the existing four dilapidated buildings with a multigenerational housing project.

“We have envisioned a project where retired seniors could be part of a vibrant community and have access to medical care and activities,” Ndalla-Watino said. “Our housing project will incorporate mixed-income rental units.”


Franklin Square Park Revitalization

As a public park in the vibrant city of Boston, Franklin Square Park has tremendous potential, but the city must first address several issues, including drug use and loitering. A team of students in the Master of Public Administration Program (MPA) are putting together a game plan to revitalize and safeguard the historical square.

Alejandro Manzanares, Tim Sullivan, Jason Romanello, and Joe Madden are developing a comprehensive plan for the revitalization of Franklin Square Park, which consists of three phases: stakeholder engagement and research, problem analysis, and a written policy brief of findings and recommendations.

“Our plan will outline a period of time during which this project will be executed. It is designed to provide the Blackstone Franklin Square Neighborhood Association with a detailed overview of the tasks identified in our scope of work,” the team said, adding, “as a tool for revitalization, parks can mitigate commercial downturn in an area, work to stabilize failing neighborhoods, improve air quality, create community bonds, serve as a city detox, and provide a center of gravity that residents and visitors can point to with pride.”


Success Boston Transition Coaching: A financial analysis from the perspective of higher education

A 2008 report by the Boston Private Industry Council and Northeastern University found that only 35 percent of college students from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Class of 2000 completed a postsecondary degree or credential. In response to the sobering news, Boston’s then Mayor Thomas Menino called on the city’s leaders to dramatically increase college completion for future BPS graduates. What emerged was Success Boston—an extraordinary coalition between BPS, the Boston Foundation, the City of Boston, local nonprofits, the business community, and numerous local higher education institutions.

The signature intervention of Success Boston is transition coaching, through which students in their last year of high school are paired with adult professional coaches for the first two years of college. To accurately analyze the financial impacts of transition coaching, four MPA students—Brittany McClendon, Evan Berry, Wanda Jacobs, and Manny Alcantara— are preparing a literature review of relevant data, conducting interviews with identified key informants, and collecting and reviewing the financial documents of more than 15 institutions.

Their literature review will cover the impact of retention on colleges and universities, the effect of similar gateway and dual enrollment programs, and the impact of the changing population demographics on higher education enrollment. Key informants were provided by the Boston Foundation and interviewed by the capstone team. Interviews were also held with various partners of Success Boston including Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Bunker Hill Community College, USA Funds, and Northeastern University.

“To streamline the process of collecting and analyzing the financial records of institution, we decided to utilize last year’s (2015) financial records,” said McClendon. “We will synthesize the data to create an algorithm that can be applied to institutions to show the financial impact, per student, of transition coaching.”


Public education communication

The current Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website includes information regarding each educational option, but the department is looking to expand this foundation to include mapping and list generating capabilities. MPA students Cyntia Howard, Xiaoyu Fu, Edwin Harris, and Ashley Montgomery are designing a portal that will provide parents with information about the public educational options available to their students.

“In order to design a portal that best fits the needs of parents and students, our group is researching best practices from other cities and states for displaying information related to school choice,” said Howard. “We’ve also reached out to parents and other stakeholders to ask for their input on the design.”


Historic restoration & low-income housing

In an interdisciplinary team of five, Scott Lyons, Jiawei Li, Matthew Macnabb, Allison Pena, and Sophonie Pierre are determining the most effective methods to restore and develop a historic cranberry screen house in Wareham, Mass., into a cranberry museum, while also developing low-income elderly housing to benefit the community.

Their client, A.D. Makepeace, is trying to perform responsible redevelopment in Wareham and surrounding communities. And the team is evaluating financial feasibility options, from development to operations, for the Cranberry museum plan and the land redevelopment elderly housing project at 477 and 481 Main St.

Lyons, Pena and Pierre are MPA students. Macnabb is a student in the MS in Urban Informatics (MSUI), and Li is enrolled in the MS in Urban and Regional Policy (MURP).


Tuition Free Community College initiative

Four MPA students are working with the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development in Boston to help grow and mature the city’s Tuition Free Community College initiative into its second year of operation.

Myles Tucker, Lauren Jones, Anderson Marbun, and Ashley Waggonner are developing a data management concept, a program evaluation plan, and price-point based implementation tools to help Boston ensure that its program is targeting the right constituents, as well as encouraging a college-going culture in both students and their communities.


Prairie Dog Consulting Group

Three MPA students, Na Li, Yearam Kang and Ben Irwin, have blended their management and leadership skills with Antonio Vázquez Brust’s urban informatics expertise to assess the ability of cities to manage federal grant funding.

Their assignment is a continuation of a fall 2016 capstone project that investigated federal grant oversight and administration practices in cities. That team’s research led to a matrix of recommendations in three areas: organizational capacity, audit and oversight, and information technology. (Click here to learn more about the team’s findings and recommendations.)

This semester, students have picked up where the fall team left off, and they are researching municipal types and potential target audiences to develop a test survey. The survey was distributed to more than 200 cities nationwide, and the results will be used to prepare a final version of the survey along with an implementation guide and report for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.


Gender identity discrimination law

In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation. Within weeks of it taking effect, enough signatures were collected for a 2018 ballot question aimed at repealing the law.

Now, Sonya Bhabhalia, Brittany Morgan, Stephanie Apollon, Christine Salazar, and Ilona Prucha are attempting to understand the vulnerabilities the transgender population faces in Massachusetts. They are working with a faith organization to determine the implications of a repeal as well as effective education strategies for faith communities to understand them.


Housing affordability & supply

Two MPP students and an MPA student are developing a plan to measure the impact of housing affordability and housing supply on worker recruitment and retention for companies located in Greater Boston.

Jon Hillman, Sarah Tekleab and Wael Altali are working to further the policy work of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP), a public nonprofit affordable housing organization established in 1985 whose aim is to increase the state’s overall rate of housing production, as well as work with cities and towns to demonstrate new and better ways of meeting the need for affordable housing. Their research will aid MHP policy work aimed at understanding the connection between housing cost and availability and economic growth.


Food pantries & food security

Five MPA students have teamed up with Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) to determine the role food pantries play in food security for low-income individuals in the Greater Boston area.

Rachel Spero, Hessah AlKanan, Gladys Leyva, Joseph Ritchie, and Koeran Queen are gathering data about ABCD food pantries through focus groups with a sample of food pantry customers and Brown Bag programs, as well as customers of select external food pantries across Greater Boston. They are also conducting a literature review to explore the history of food pantries, how they obtain food, who accesses food pantries, and other existing models of food delivery. The goal is to better understand strategies and systems ABCD might employ to maximize efficiencies that provide high quality food pantry services to their customers.

“We are conducting an environmental scan of food banks, food pantries and any other food delivery organizations in the Greater Boston area that provide food to low-income populations,” the team said.


Published On: April 5, 2017 |
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