Capstone Course

In the Global Affairs B.A. program, a hands-on capstone project replaces the senior thesis.

Global affairs seniors are required to take a capstone course. Working in small groups and overseen by a Yale faculty member, the students complete a public policy project on behalf of a client, which can be government agencies, not-for-profits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and private sector entities in the United States and abroad.

The program is designed to give our seniors hands-on public policy experience, and to give clients an opportunity to benefit from an independent analysis of an existing or prospective policy, initiative, or area of concern.

For each course, the Jackson School works with the client to formulate a project that is appropriate and mutually beneficial. Over the course of the fall semester, the students meet formally once a week with their faculty instructor, and work outside of class as necessary to complete their project. The students typically travel to the location of their client at the beginning or the end of the semester.

The capstone course is led by Casey King, director.

Fall 2023 Capstone Projects

Leveraging Lessons from TB Program Resilience During COVID for Global Pandemic Preparedness

The COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of lives, both directly from the novel virus but also from conditions that could not be treated by weakened health systems. During the pandemic, basic HIV, TB and malaria programs were dramatically reduced, with TB programs particularly affected by lockdowns and cannibalization of diagnostic equipment.

The President of Friends of the Global Fight against AIDS, TB and Malaria has asked the capstone to support a research project to understand how future TB programs have been and can be better designed, implemented, and leveraged to strengthen health systems and pandemic preparedness, particularly against respiratory pathogens. Using data from reports and from interviews with key informants, students will conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses to understand trade-offs and develop forward projections to make the case to invest in TB programs as a key component of global pandemic preparedness. There may also be an opportunity to develop the analyses into a publishable research paper. The students’ report and related briefing materials will be used to present and advocate to key decision-makers in TB control and global pandemic preparedness in Washington, Geneva, and in other donor capitals and unlock significant resources for the fight against TB and future pandemics.

Combating Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

Afghanistan under Taliban rule is the worst country in the world to be a woman or girl. Schools are closed to girls above sixth grade, women are banned from working for nongovernmental organizations, and the Taliban have prohibited women from walking in parks or traveling outside their homes without a male guardian. These extreme restrictions are increasingly referred to as “gender apartheid” due to their unprecedented scope and institutionalized structure. Students in this course will engage with Afghan women’s rights activists and assist Richard Bennett, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, to determine whether the Taliban’s abuse of women amounts to gender persecution — a crime against humanity recognized by the International Criminal Court. Students will help Bennett as a client to develop a system for evaluating and quantifying Taliban abuses. Students will also hone their ability to analyze complex evidence and develop policy arguments designed to generate international pressure on the Taliban for reform.

Enabling Active Cyber-Economic Defense

Modern developed economies are built on foundations of computational infrastructure — hardware, such as telecommunications relays and data centers, and software, such as databases and cloud services — and often are constructed under assumptions about this infrastructure’s resilience. Cyberattacks by international criminal organizations or rogue nation states on this critical computational infrastructure pose substantial risks to global security and economic welfare. Developing methods for defending against cyberattacks that “disrupt or degrade vital national functions or critical infrastructure” (2022 US National Security Strategy) and, for ensuring the resilience of critical international economic systems, is of utmost importance.

In collaboration with US Air Force Studies, Analyses, and Assessments (SAF/SA), this course will explore the landscape of cyber-economic threats and defenses with focus on systemically important economic systems such as payment processing networks, securities and derivative trading venues, and supply chains. Using quantitative (e.g., network analytics, econometrics, machine learning, and statistical simulation) and qualitative (e.g., surveys, wargaming) analysis methods, students will explore and develop an ecosystem of potential cyber-economic threat vectors and construct corresponding strategies for defending against these global threats. Students will engage in multiple touchpoints with SAF/SA personnel and other leaders from the US Department of Defense during the course.

Dress, Dignity, and Disability: Fashion as a Driver of Global Equity

Over 1.3 billion people worldwide have a disability. Clothing can be an empowering tool for building dignity in this community, fostering independence, self-expression, and self-esteem. The current fashion system, however, offers disabled persons limited choices and little access to popular styles. A more disability-inclusive system would address social and moral issues while unlocking a customer base estimated to have $13 trillion in spending power.

Capstone students will work with The Valuable 500, a global network committed to setting global standards for disability equity and inclusion. The organization includes 500 private sector CEOs and their companies, representing 22 million employees across 64 sectors in 41 countries. Among these are many brands focused on fashion, from mass retail to luxury.

With these brands — and with disability advocates, design creatives, and media concerns — students will examine intersections of disability and fashion, gathering data and providing an analysis of possibilities for a more inclusive fashion system and its potential impacts. Students will present a final report and recommendations to The Valuable 500; those who wish to remain involved may be able to continue the research and report the process and findings in academic journals and/or the general press.

Improving Global Funding Practices for Sustainability, Equity, and Return on Investment

Global health funding is often awarded in ways that both favor short-term, temporary solutions rather than long-term sustainability and provide much higher amounts of institutional funding to high-income institutions than to low-income institutions, even when the overall objective of the funding is to strengthen low-income institutions. In this capstone course, students will explore a variety of models to address these challenges, proposing specific ways to improve and even possibly restructure how global health funds are awarded and managed, with the goal of providing more equitable and sustainable solutions to entrenched global health problems and institutional fragilities. Students should be prepared to undertake quantitative data analysis and modeling utilizing funding data from the West African country of Liberia from 2015 (immediately post-Ebola) to the present. Students participating in this capstone course should be interested in global health equity and reducing neocolonialism in global health funding practices. The work from this capstone course will likely result in publication with students encouraged to become co-authors.

The Game Engine: Navigating a Sustainable and Responsible World

Climate change is having a destructive impact on people and our planet and the consequences are increasingly devastating. We urgently need to change how we think, how we imagine, how we measure sustainability, and how to invest in our planet and society. A recent article in the Guardian recognized the power of games to change lives and cultural behavior. It writes, “From urban planning to post-traumatic stress therapy, game worlds are breaking into the real world.” Working with the UK-based not-for-profit Rewired Earth, students will conceptualize and contribute to the creation of a game engine that empowers global citizens to demand and act on sustainability. This collective action would create the most powerful dataset in the world, signaling to policymakers and businesses to invest in our sustainable future.

There is an enormous opportunity to apply the mechanics, immersion and reward mechanisms of gaming to a real-world campaign, with real-world teams and real-world outcomes, which can be navigated through a gaming experience that realizes the fundamental opportunity of the metaverse. Leveraging game mechanics and design thinking, students can engage in the most creative and compelling mediums of their generation and innovate for the most compelling challenges of our century.

Gulf Security for a New Era

In this course, students will assist the US National Security Council’s Middle East and North Africa Directorate in thinking through creative ways to demonstrate and highlight the US commitment to security, stability, and economic prosperity among Arab partners in the Gulf region. The global and regional geopolitical landscape has shifted in recent years, leading some observers to point out uncertainties in how the US commitment is perceived. Drawing from case studies in other geographical and temporal contexts, students will propose ideas to the NSC staff for how to rethink Gulf security for a new era.

Brčko District: Dayton’s Unfinished Business

The Dayton Peace Accord brokered an end to the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina but failed to resolve the status of the ethnically and religiously diverse Brčko District. Consequently, the area has been subject to supervision since the end of the conflict through the Office of the High Representative (OHR), an international body created by Dayton. Today, Brčko is a self-governing entity widely viewed as a singular success having reduced within its boundaries (sometimes haltingly) the tensions still dividing the country’s principal political and geographic components, the Federation and Republika Srpska. Owing to Brčko’s progress, OHR suspended but did not terminate its supervision in 2012 and now is considering whether it can end its supervisory mandate permanently.

OHR welcomes collaboration with capstone colleagues to define the necessary conditions for Brčko’s sustainability as a self-governing entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina and develop specific, measurable, time-bound, and binary metrics that measure progress toward those conditions. A successful project will have a profound impact on the people of Brčko and may serve as a template for moderating ethnic and religious tensions in the rest of the country. Capstone participants likely will travel to Brčko and other parts of the country.

Implications for Euro-Atlantic Security Architectures

How has the world changed since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and what does this change mean for the future? This capstone project will explore this question for the client, The Global Europe Program of the Wilson Center. Narrowing our focus on the future of Europe and emphasizing the role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, we will compare the pillars of European security and prosperity before Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine with the pillars as we see them emerging today. Given that the client seeks to offer policy advice to achieve best outcomes, we will test these emerging pillars against a variety of hypothesized scenarios to determine best case vs. worst case results. Informed by these hypothetical excursions, we will make recommendations to our client on how to best shape the new or adapted Euro-Atlantic security architectures.