By Matthew Kredell
A group of 2019 Master of Public Administration graduates at USC Price set the standard for future MPA students to strive for with their end-of-program capstone project.
Nearly a year after handing in their final project for a grade, Joseph Briglio, Elizabeth Devaney, Dominique Samario and Danielle Veldman became published authors when their classwork ran in the Journal of Social Work Education this spring.
It’s the first time for an MPA capstone report to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s no wonder the project was chosen as the 2019 Haynes Award winner as the program’s best capstone.
“It shows the quality of our MPA program to have students create this impactful research,” said Prof. Dora Kingsley Vertenten, the MPA online faculty coordinator at USC Price. “These capstone projects are our pro-bono contribution to the community. But now we’re thinking about publishing the research the students are collecting and analyzing so it goes beyond the clients to benefit the community at large.”
The journal article and capstone focus on addressing a homeless services workforce deficit through collaborative social work field placements. Donna Gallup, who received her PhD from the USC School of Social Work and now is an associate professor at Azusa Pacific, served as lead author for the article. Michael D. Cohen was the group’s faculty advisor.
Gallup came to USC Price looking for students to provide a formative analysis of a master’s of social work field education program that brought multiple universities and service agencies together with the Corporation for Supportive Housing as the lead convener.
The students were tasked with assessing the preliminary efficacy of the collaborative field placement model through a program stakeholder analysis and extensive literature review. All four were experienced practitioners taking the online MPA degree program at USC Price.
They interviewed 40 stakeholders from among students, nonprofit service providers and universities, and conducted a literature review to produce the original 125-page capstone report.
“I think the extent to which they took the project is why it has become such an important foundational study and journal article,” Gallup said. “They did such an intensive job from the very beginning.”
This was a unique practicum as the students knew when choosing the topic that there was a commitment to publish the work if it reached sufficient quality. What they didn’t know was how much extra work it would require to reach publication long after finishing their degrees.
They received a lesson on what it takes to get an academic article published, going back and forth with reviews of the article and continuing to mold it to stand up to the rigor needed to be put out into the world. It was published March 27, 2020.
“I don’t think many people get to the end of grad school work and want to keep going with it,” Briglio said. “But we were proud of the work and wanted to see it to the end. Seeing it published, all the work was so worth it to me.”
The Journal of Social Work Education is a peer-reviewed journal, but these weren’t exactly peers to the graduate students. They were scholars in the field, including USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work associate professor Benjamin Henwood.
“Just to be a published author, that’s insane and something I never thought would be possible when I started at USC Price,” Briglio said. “This is a document that potentially other graduate students and students in general will look to in the future, and possibly cite as a source. That’s incredible to me.”
Devaney enjoyed the experience of producing the capstone report and prepping it for an academic journal so much that it sparked her desire to continue in academia by pursuing an online PhD in education at Johns Hopkins University. She began her doctoral studies in entrepreneurial leadership in education.
“My role was largely the literature review portion of our research, and what I found is that I loved dissecting research in the field, looking through the literature to find applicable results and theory and then applying it to this case,” Devaney said. “I found the work in the MPA program at USC Price energized me so much that I was disappointed when I graduated. That’s why I decided to continue on and applied to a doctoral program.”
One tangible result of the analysis of the program conducted by the students is that internship placement program will continue past its pilot stage with Henwood and the USC Dworak-Peck School taking over as lead convener for the third year. The internship placement program is important in bringing social work graduates into the field of homeless services.
Devaney and Samario aren’t through with the capstone just yet. They are planning on joining Gallup to present the research at the Council on Social Work Education Conference in November.
“Helping nonprofits develop more effective experiences in the developmental needs of people experiencing homelessness is so important and the findings so valuable that I will continue on in any capacity I can to help disseminate this to universities and the nonprofit space,” Devaney said.
Kingsley Vertenten is now using the group as an example for students in the capstone class to think about where their work can be shared.
“This group getting their capstone published will help motivate all the teams that come after them,” Kingsley Vertenten said. “They do such a lot of work. It’s great to be able to share it.”