Evolving the MPM Capstone Experience

Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program is founded on a multidisciplinary approach that prepares qualified professionals for project management roles in the diverse cross-section of organizations that facilitate design and construction in the private and public sectors. 

A key skill of a successful project manager is effective communication, and recently appointed MPM director Shelley Finnigan is looking forward to ensuring that the learning outcomes related to communication are more robustly structured for MPM students.  

“When it comes to project management, a significant percentage of the job is communication,” Finnigan said. “Project managers may find themselves talking to teammates about the activities that must be executed to complete the job or speaking with clients as they aim to determine their exact needs and how those needs can translate into actionable items for everyone on the team. For every situation that a project manager faces, strong communication skills will serve them well.”  

Shelley Finnigan

Developing those skills has been a hallmark of MPM, and Finnigan is excited to work with faculty to further enhance that training, particularly with the program's capstone report — a foundational component of the program. The capstone report originated in response to a common need felt across the architectural, engineering, construction, and development industries: there was a need for better communication delivered by better communicators.  

To help further that mission, Finnigan and MPM faculty are modifying the capstone experience so students can build upon the communication skills they develop throughout their time in the program.  

“We want to build on the momentum that students develop during their first quarter in the program and carry it through to completion of their capstone report,” Finnigan said. “We look forward to seeing this new structure lead to an even more beneficial capstone experience for our students, and we are confident the skills they develop will translate to competitive advantages for them in the job market.”  

One of the modifications will be to make the capstone report part of a larger, two-quarter course. Students will have more opportunities to collaborate throughout the research and writing process. The hope is to also make final presentations a formal showcase for students to demonstrate the lessons they have learned and the communication skills they have built. 

“I’d like to get more industry experts involved for review panels and increase the number of opportunities for students to engage with more individuals outside of the Northwestern community,” she said. “I want the final capstone presentation to be about students showcasing their skills to a range of professionals, including potential employers.”  

Katherine Duke, who has taught Communication in MPM for the past six years, helped collaborate on the redevelopment of the capstone experience. She said the capstone enhancements will give students more opportunities to practice and refine their research and writing skills.  

"I am excited about the new structure because it gives our students a more robust writing experience," Duke said. "I tell all my students that those employees who can communicate well will move up through the organization much more quickly and are more likely to be a success in the workplace."

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