One of the unique features of the Data and Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) Program is the opportunity to engage in hands-on policy research. The faculty-led Capstone Research Project is the culmination and highlight of the seven-week program. We spoke with Austin Wright, Assistant Professor and DPSS Faculty Director, to learn more about the capstone project.  

What is the Capstone Research Project? 

The Capstone Research Project is an opportunity for students to work on active research projects with me or other UChicago faculty. Working with a small group of peers, students will have access to proprietary or open-source data to tackle current policy challenges such as refugee displacement, economic impacts of mask mandates, legacy of the George Floyd protests, etc.  

What is the goal of the project? 

A triumph of our Credential Programs is listening to student feedback and the many ways in which students contribute to a program’s success. The idea for the Capstone Research Project originated from student interest to exercise the skills gained in DPSS. After several weeks of building skills in quantitative analysis and R programming, the Capstone is the space for students to practice those tools, and showcase what they can do. In the end, they produce a policy memo containing a literature review, their data analysis and visualization, and a summary of their findings.  

"I benefited from the Capstone project. I learned how to think like a researcher and to be engaged with a research project, even though I didn't have previous experience in conducting serious research."

Xiaoyun Tang, DPSS'20, MPP Class of 2023 

Can you share a sample project? 

In the summer of 2020, we had more than 100 students across the two DPSS sessions working on a mask mandate tracking project. We found that the pattern of mask usage is incredibly partisan. The number one predictor of local zip code level mask use in the United States is what percentage of the local population voted for Donald Trump in 2016, more so than local Covid severity; more so than other risk patterns. We collectively built the very first, and what is still today, the most comprehensive county-level dataset of mask mandates in the United States that has been downloaded and used hundreds of times.  

"What was exciting about the Covid-19 Capstone project was knowing that the findings in that project contributed to public health decisionmaking. "

–Meg Edwards, DPSS'20 

Read the blog: Our Summer Research on Covid-19 Mask Mandates with Professor Austin Wright 

What happens after the project? 

Students have submitted their projects to their current academic institutions or graduate school applications. Some continued working and advancing on the specific project, while others applied the tools to the areas they are most passionate about. These applied research skills are transferable to other projects.  

"The Capstone project helped me strengthen my graduate school application and helped me to get an internship at the Ministry of Economy trade industry in Japan."

Miyu Haraguchi, DPSS'20