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EPD Workshop FAQs for Students

The Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development Practice (EPD Workshop) is one of most exciting opportunities for students in the Economic and Political Development (EPD) concentration (and a limited number of students in other concentrations) in the Masters of International Affairs and Masters of Public Administration degree programs. Officially, it is a spring-semester course for second-year students, but workshop activities begin in the fall semester through the course on Methods for Sustainable Development Practice. Through the workshop, students gain practical experience while assisting a diverse range of clients on a variety of assignments related to international development, usually involving in-country fieldwork over SIPA’s winter or spring breaks. Working in teams with a faculty supervisor, students take a multidisciplinary approach to their work and learn extensively from each other as well as from the hands-on tasks of the workshop itself.

Another key strength of the workshop is that it allows students to explore the intersection of development concerns with human rights, corporate social responsibility, humanitarian affairs, conflict resolution, education, public health, gender, environmental policy, entrepreneurship and private sector development, and technology. Recent workshop clients have included IOM, UNCDF, UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women and WFP; USAID; AIIB, IDB, and the World Bank; several national and local governments; development advisors such as DAI and TechnoServe; NGOs such as International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, Transparency International and WaterAid; companies such as Natura Cosmetics; and several start-up social enterprises. Teams produce actionable final reports and make final presentations to their clients at the end of the workshop, and several clients return each year to work with another team.

Frequently Asked Questions

Review the following Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development Practice (EPD Workshop). 

  • The Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development Practice (U9001) is a required course for second-year master’s degree students in the Economic and Political Development (EPD) Concentration. The EPD Workshop provides students with an opportunity to apply what they have learned from their coursework, internships and prior work experience to consulting engagements in the field of development. Students work in teams with a faculty advisor to assist clients on a wide variety of assignments in international development, human rights and related fields. The EPD Workshop also fulfills the capstone requirement for students in SIPA’s MIA and MPA programs.

  • Workshop projects are developed over the summer based on discussions with potential clients and input received from students. Each year there are a number of returning clients who wish to do a follow-up project or who may propose a brand new topic. In the spring, the EPD concentration surveys first-year students to learn about their interests in possible topics and clients. Students interested in developing a workshop project should contact Eugenia McGill, the EPD Workshop Director, at [email protected].

  • The EPD Workshop is a unique experience. It provides an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned from coursework and past experience directly to challenging, real-life development projects. It also provides experience in working with a team of diverse colleagues with a range of skills and experience. For faculty advisors of the Workshop, it is an opportunity to think about ‘teaching’ in different terms. Further, clients have consistently been pleased by the high quality of the work produced. A number of final reports have been published and circulated within the world of development policy and practice.

    The Workshop aims to facilitate professional development and contacts. Among the skills emphasized are:

    • problem identification and problem solving
    • managing tasks/resources/time
    • team management
    • negotiation skills
    • cross-cultural communication
    • ability to assess organizational capacity
    • data gathering (e.g., through interviews, focus groups, surveys and/or participatory techniques)
    • data analysis
    • presentation skills
  • Students generally participate in the EPD Workshop in their second year at SIPA. The EPD Workshop is technically a spring semester course, but initial work starts late in the fall semester and is done through the Methods for Sustainable Development Practice course. In the spring semester, Workshop sections meet weekly with their faculty advisor, and there are two joint sessions bringing all the teams together. 

  • The EPD Workshop is a 3-point course that meets once a week in the spring semester. However, the course requires much more time than a typical course. Students selected for a Workshop team are expected to schedule their other courses, internships, personal travel and other commitments to accommodate their responsibilities in their Workshop project.

  • Applications for the EPD Workshop open in mid-October when workshop projects are announced. Students apply by the end of October and if accepted, are registered for the course by early January.

  • Teams are formed in early November based on students’ experience, skills and the needs of each project. There are typically 4-7 students on each team. Students choose and rank 5 workshop projects in their application. We urge students to select workshop projects carefully, taking into consideration their past experience, skills, professional goals and the specific requirements listed by client. Although we make every effort to assign students to a project of their top choice, students may occasionally be placed in one of their lower ranked choices.

  • Travel usually takes place over Columbia’s winter break (in January) and/or spring break (in March). The extent of travel is determined by the needs of the project in discussions among the client, faculty advisor and student team. The number of students who travel from each team is determined by the demands of the project, although budgetary considerations may also affect this decision. Faculty advisors do not usually travel with the teams.

  • Yes. The EPD Workshop requires substantial funds for travel. Core funds are generously provided by SIPA, other Columbia University schools and institutes, and many clients. However, these funds will not cover all of students’ travel expenses. We expect students to economize on their expenses to the extent possible without jeopardizing safety, which is a foremost priority. For example, we expect students to stay in modest accommodations and to use phone cards for communications. A course fee of $375 is included in students’ spring tuition bill to help cover Workshop travel and other costs.

  • Grading is based on the quality of (1) individual contributions, (2) overall team performance, and (3) the team’s final report, final presentation and any other deliverables. Individual contributions will include (a) performance of specific assigned roles (e.g., as project manager, budget officer, client or faculty contact, etc.), (b) individual written assignments (e.g., literature review, research tools or interview notes), and (c) contributions to team deliverables (e.g., sections of the workplan or final report). The faculty advisor assigns final grades to each team member, which also incorporates the results of mid-term and final peer reviews. Grades within groups vary, depending on the faculty advisor’s assessment of individual contributions.

  • Priority is given to students taking the Methods for Sustainable Development Practice course and other EPD concentrators. A limited number of students in other concentrations at SIPA may also participate in the EPD Workshop, subject to approval of both the EPD Workshop Director and the Capstone Director. Students are asked to apply for either the Capstone program or the EPD Workshop. 

  • A limited number of EPD students may participate in the spring Capstone program, subject to approval of both the EPD Workshop Director and the Capstone Director. In addition, because there are no EPD Workshop projects in the fall semester, EPD students who expect to graduate in December must complete their capstone/workshop requirement in the previous spring semester.