Capstone class publishes policy report with Government Accountability Office

Capstone class publishes policy report with Government Accountability Office

Last semester, Associate Professor Jeremy Weber’s Capstone Seminar class worked on a real policy analysis request from the federal Government Accountability Office. Their final report just went public.

“Unlike a typical academic data project, where you chose a topic because it has good data, our project followed a more real-world policy situation where you make the most of the data relevant for the policy question at hand,” said Weber.

Throughout the semester, the students were tasked with exploring possible gaps in federal oversight of U.S. small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, and whether the federal government should close these gaps. At the end of the semester, students presented the findings to 30 GAO staff, who were “very impressed” by the work, reports Weber.

Hannah Bisbing, an MPA student, already has a full-time job offer from the GAO, which she’ll begin after she graduates this spring.

“Our capstone was not a lecture-based class. Rather, this course was designed to simulate a collaborative, real-world working environment,” said Bisbing. “Each team member was assigned their own respective tasks to accomplish throughout the week. We then came to class ready to share our individual findings and ideas about the project’s design, which moved the project forward.”

“Our class functioned like a think tank, with every student expected to pull their weight and be accountable,” said Joseph Marlitt (MPA ‘23), another student on the project. “Because of this, there was a real sense of comradery and trust amongst the team that helped us critique and push each other to produce professional-quality work.”

“Since we were all tackling different aspects of the project, we each became semi-specialists in our individual areas,” said Bisbing. “We investigated the various environmental, public health, physical safety, and social impacts that LNG facilities have on local communities – including environmental justice concerns about LNG production and transport disproportionately affecting poor and minority communities.”

The capstone class project also provided an opportunity to connect with professionals in the field.

“This course also had direct engagement with stakeholders,” said Bisbing. “Beyond meeting with GAO midway through the semester to obtain their feedback on our project, several team members had the opportunity to interview some local government officials and LNG industry employees."

Bisbing, who accepted a job offer to work at GAO’s Boston Field Office, said this project provided a great learning experience for working in professional collaborative research roles. “This course was a great example of how projects often pivot and evolve from initial objectives. Sometimes research findings swerve projects in a different direction than anticipated or stakeholders may alter their requests,” she said.

For their final project, the class produced a professional report based on their findings. The report, “Are Small-Scale Lng Export Facilities Underregulated in the U.S.?” is now available to read publicly.

“The type of report we were producing needed to be not only correct and defensible, but also of a length that made it readable and useful to high-level decision makers," said Marlitt.

“Sometimes we judge our work on length, but in the real world, you need to boil down what you produce so that every syllable matters,” he said. “Learning to do this in the classroom is invaluable, and I feel prepared to enter into a professional team and communicate on that level.”