I. Overview of the Basics: What is the Applied Project course? What is its purpose? And what is a student expected to produce?
The Applied Project course serves as the culminating experience for both the Master of Arts in Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS) and the Master of Public Safety Leadership and Administration (MPSLA) degrees. The overall goal of the Applied Project course is for students to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) acquired in their degree program through their application in a substantively important and original applied program evaluation, service project or policy analytic research project. From the overall goal, the course has several key learning objectives, including that students:
Demonstrate the ability to execute a substantively important client-oriented service project, applied evaluation, or policy analysis of an important question in the emergency management, homeland security or public safety and emergency services (including police, fire and emergency medical services) professional communities;
Utilize the culminating experience project to promote their own individual professional goals and evelopment;
Employ and demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities in order to achieve a problem solution, contribute to the service mission of an organization in this professional domain, or assess a critical question in one of the fields noted above;
Demonstrate ability in critical thinking, proficient written communication and other communication skills through formal presentations of project work;
Employ appropriate project management practices to execute the approved project within the time-limited boundaries of the course; and
Produce a final project report with appropriate adherence to a standard format, as provided by the course instructor.
Thus, students should understand this culminating experience course as a major project that demonstrates KSAs in their degree program, which includes producing an original work that contributes directly to a host organization (i.e. for whom the applied service or evaluation work is conducted) or to an original analysis of a current public policy or public management problem in an area relevant to these two degree programs.
Overall, the purpose of this culminating experience is to assist students in their professional development by completing a major project—one that either contributes to an organization in one of these fields or one that contributes to current knowledge in these same professional areas. In other words, we can say the intended benefit for students is that through the process of developing completing such a project they advance their own professional development in a very concrete and practical way. In those cases where the project serves a hosting organization, the project accomplishes a mutual benefit by providing a direct service to that organization.
The exact form of the work produced will vary by each individual project, but in general, students should be prepared to produce a major final report (a typical report length is about twenty pages minimum, thirty five pages maximum), one that corresponds to the service or evaluation effort conducted for a hosting organization, or a major final policy analysis report based on the research conducted over the course of the term.
Finally, students should be aware that unlike other ASU Online courses in the EMHS or MPSLA, during the Fall, Spring and Summer semesters, the course is offered as a Session C option. This means that during the Fall and Spring semesters, the course spans the full 15 week term. In the summer, a Session C course is 8 weeks. This longer-than-usual amount of course time is intentional; developing and executing a major project takes a good deal of time, so a Session C options affords students greater flexibility in completing projects. The summer term is by definition somewhat shorter, so those students who are taking the course then are encouraged to plan ahead to prepare for completing their work under the somewhat accelerated schedule of 8 weeks.
II. Getting Started: Selecting an applied service project, program evaluation or policy analysis topic As will be discussed in individual course syllabi and in lecture materials provided by course instructors, generally speaking, the culminating project will take one of three possible forms:
An applied service product for a public sector agency (e.g. writing annex material for a local emergency operations plan) or a nonprofit organization (e.g. writing operating procedures on assisting in a mass care disaster situation) or some other similar service project for a specific organization;
An applied evaluation project (e.g. a short assessment of human resource management practices at a ublic or nonprofit agency, an assessment of a change in a local hazard mitigation strategy, some other assessment of a similar nature); or
A focused policy analysis or research project, where a core public policy or public management question pertaining to an important issue or question in the emergency management, homeland security or emergency services fields.
The first two basic project types entail working directly with an organization. As such, the student’s work will be performed in cooperation with that “host” or “client” organization. The third type listed above, a policy analysis or research project, might not require direct interaction with a client per se to guide the project, but it still might require regular interactions with practitioners through subject matter expert interviews or similar contact.
Whichever form a student’s project takes, there will be six main project milestones (with corresponding written assignments) for each individual project, typically. Instructors might alter the list slightly based on their own approach to the course, but in general, some basic form of the following elements will be produced during the term:
Submission of project topic for approval
Submission of detailed project outline and work plan
Submission of a background and literature review draft
Submission of a first project draft, with an overall project status update
Submission of project presentation in PowerPoint format
Submission of final project materials (product and report or final analytic paper)
To begin the applied project process, the student should identify a project from the types noted above (or contact the course instructor if the planned project is likely to take some alternative form), including contacting a specific client if a service project or a program evaluation is being done for a particular host organization.
Choosing a topic, and finding a client with whom to work is the responsibility of the individual student. It is beneficial for students to plan ahead and develop a topic and a relationship with a client organization prior to the start of the semester in which they enroll in the course. Doing so makes the approval of the project topic, and the specification of a project plan, at the start of the term much easier – and completing the project more practicable.
Regardless of type of project, the initial tasks include clearly defining project scope and clarifying the timeline for completion, or if the project is of a policy analysis type, verifying that the selected topic is a current policy question of relevance and significance in the emergency management or homeland security domain. Whatever the project, students should conduct a review of extant literature to gain an understanding of current knowledge and an appropriate substantive background in the issue area. This review will also assist in informing the methodological approach and establish project goals and specific objectives. One more component of the first set of initial tasks:
students should develop a specific set of project tasks, clearly stated project objectives, and a specific timeline for completion.
III. Project Milestones: A typical list of assigned work While individual course instructors might vary their approach, the basic set of assigned work in the Applied Project course is likely to follow something very close to the list of six major project milestones described below.
A. Writing an Initial Project Topic Statement
As a first task in completing the applied project course, students are asked to provide an initial project statement, which includes: (1) a short project description,
(2) a statement of the major goal of the project (including how it might serve a client’s needs, if applicable),
(3) how the project relates to your professional development goals, and
(4) a short statement on the feasibility of completing the project.
B. Initial Project Work Plan
Following the initial project statement, students are next asked to provide a more detailed project which should include three key information elements:
(1) a general overview of your project plan, which includes a statement on goals and key objectives or project activities, what data or information or other logistical steps are needed to accomplish those objectives or activities, what the final work product will look like (basic form of that work product), and if applicable, a statement that a work relationship with a client organization is confirmed,
(2) a list of key tasks to accomplish in order to complete the key elements of the project, and
(3) a timeline for completion of those individual tasks in order to support overall completion of the project.
C. Topic or Issue Area Background and Literature Review
An important aspect of the final project report is to demonstrate knowledge of the substantive field in which the project work is situated. As a result students are ask to conduct background research on the subject area, which includes policy and government reports, academic articles, and any other similar sources of information about the project topic. This issue background and literature review will be an important element of explaining the context and substance of the project to the reader in the final report. As a result, this project milestone entails producing a background/literature review statement as a key early step in formulating the content of the final report.
D. First Draft – Interim Project Report
To ensure fidelity to a planned project timeline, students will provide a mid-project draft of the final project report. While several sections of the report may not be available to be written by the point in the term when this milestone is due, a basic structure for the overall final report should be produced in this draft. The initial draft represents a summary of what students have accomplished to that point—and should indicate what additional work still needs to be completed.
E. Project Presentation
In addition to completing a final written report, the project work also entails producing a formal PowerPoint presentation to accompany that final project report or project product. Students will prepare a presentation (as a PPT file) that outlines their final project (for review by the course instructor). While there is not an actual oral delivery of the presentation, students should prepare their PPT as if they were actually going to deliver the presentation – so slides should be presented as if the talk were to be delivered. There are three elements to keep in mind. First, students should identify a target audience for the presentation. For example, you project might be most relevant to a local emergency manager or a city council. Design your PPT slides accordingly. Second, assume you have 10 – 12 minutes to make an oral presentation. Generally speaking, if you have about 10 minutes, you probably would have a maximum of 20 slides—perhaps a bit less than that). Third, do not try to put too much information on the slides. Though you are not talking through the content in person, your instructor will be able to understand what information you are highlighting in the presentation after having read your final work product.
F. Final Report Product
If your project falls into the first category of possible project types, you are asked to submit a copy of the work product itself – as well as a final summary project report containing five key pieces of information: the goal of the project, background on the substantive domain in which the work effort takes place, what basic problem or challenge is being addressed, how the work product is to be utilized by the organization (i.e. identify its practical use), and a summary of the work process that yielded the final result. This is a narrative report of the work effort (about 20 pages is a basic expectation of report length). The report itself should include a title page, an abstract, and APA citation formatting, and other standard formatting practices are expected. [Note: if the work product contains classified information, students are expected to produce an unclassified version of the work product.]
If your project falls into the second or third category, you are asked to submit a final research paper or evaluation report. The document should have a title page, an abstract (on its own page; title and abstract page do not count toward the general length expectation), and a complete reference list; a table of contents is optional. A reasonable expectation of length would be in the range of 20 – 25 pages; 35 pages is the maximum length. The key to the final report or paper is to convey in direct terms what you are trying to accomplish with the proposed evaluation or policy research, provide supporting evidence, and draw reasonable inferences based on the logic and evidence presented.