Public Policy Seniors Tackle Greenspace, Wildlife Protection, in Winning Capstone Design Expo Projects

Capstone Winners

Posted May 6, 2021

Imagine sitting in a park, surrounded by green space and wildlife. It is an escape we often take for granted, but much planning and funding goes into these retreats. The two winning School of Public Policy teams in Georgia Tech’s annual Spring 2021 Capstone Design Expo focused on these issues and finished tied for first place in the competition’s “Best Project by Major” category.

Team Parks and Wreck” included Andrew McGraw, Colin Masterson, Josette Vanderlaan, Madeline Bruning, and Mira Kaufman. They focused their research on the question: “How Much Monetary Value Does Piedmont Park Add to Single-Family Homes in Midtown?” The Covid-19 pandemic heightened the already present financial stress faced by the Piedmont Park Conservancy. 

The other winning team, “Dial B for Birder,” included Anne Hardin, Dalton Booker, Grace Fletcher, Peter Tilly, and William Marchant. They worked with Georgia Audubon and focused on legislation to help keep birds safer in urban environments. Birds dying from collisions with the windows and other structures is a common occurrence, and bird-safe building policies could drastically reduce the number of bird casualties and increase the wild bird population. But no Georgia cities have such policies. This task force aimed to provide Georgia Audubon with the best practices and insights for their advocacy by analyzing such laws in other cities. 

The teams, along with two other School of Public Policy teams that competed, were part of PUBP 4010/4020 Public Policy Task Force. The two-semester capstone requirement gives graduating seniors the opportunity to immerse themselves in a policy-related project. They are paired with clients in non-profit and government sectors to complete extensive research on policy issues. The Public Policy Task Force is particularly unique because they are the sole capstone representative for the Ivan Allen College.

“Capstone was a unique way to summarize and share the project we’d been working so hard on for the last year. It was amazing that friends, family, and even perfect strangers could look at our poster and hear the outcomes of our research. It added that much more meaning to what we had done,” said graduating senior Madeline Bruning, a member of “Team Parks and Wreck.”

Her team completed a hedonic regression — or an estimate of demand for a good — of Midtown homes to find the amount added to the selling price of these properties due to their proximity to Piedmont Park. In turn, the Piedmont Park Conservancy can use this information when acquiring funding from partners and stakeholders. 

“Dial B for Birder” team member Peter Tilly said the project was an excellent way to close out his undergraduate education.

“The project itself was not closely related to what I will be doing after college. However, I feel much more prepared to enter the workforce after the project than I did before,” he said.

Diana Hicks, a professor in the School of Public Policy and one of the Public Policy Task Force advisors, said that is precisely the capstone’s intended outcome.

“This two-semester course asks Public Policy seniors to draw on all they have learned as undergraduates in the school and apply this knowledge in a mastery model, in which team project work is repeated until it reaches a professional level,” Hicks said.

Jan Youtie, principal research associate and advisor to the Public Policy Task Force, noted that each of this year’s Task Force clients was a “repeat customer.”

“This demonstrates the value that the clients get from the reports and presentations stemming from the pairing of undergraduate ideas, energy, and effort, alongside deep mentorship from the instructors,” Youtie said.

The research done within this course is an excellent reflection of the School’s continuing work toward the Institute’s strategic plan, which calls for developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. Each of the Task Force projects directly impacts local communities and advances the public good. 

The School of Public Policy is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

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Ansley Thomas