Western Michigan University

School of Public Affairs and Administration

PADM6800, Project Paper Seminar

Summer 2015
(Battle Creek Campus; Meetings: 9:30 to 4:30 on Saturdays 5/16, 6/06, and 8/01)


Udaya R. Waglé, Ph.D.
School of Public Affairs and Administration
Western Michigan University
226 East Walwood Hall
Kalamazoo, MI 49008

Phone: (269) 387-8934; Fax: (269) 387-8935

Homepage: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~uwagle

Email:  (Email for more efficient response)


Completing Master's degree in a social science field generally requires mastery in appropriate academic knowledge and research skills. The MPA students at SPAA also have an opportunity to demonstrate that they have the required mastery of the substantive theoretical knowledge and practical skills to conduct an extended, original research and analysis relevant to a problem of choice. The intent is to conduct a high-quality applied or theoretical research and analysis that integrates pertinent knowledge from other substantive fields or subfields, making significant contribution to furthering theoretical or public policy discourse or resolving a practical problem facing public or non-profit agencies.

Catalogued Description
In this capstone seminar, students will conduct an original, analytical research project (non-thesis) consisting of professional analysis of a management problem leading to practical implementation in governmental or nonprofit settings, or theoretical inquiry in the field of public administration. This project will produce either academic research that provides new generalized knowledge in the field or a solution to a public management problem in a specified agency. Other forms of professional inquiry and analysis may be acceptable if approved by the instructor.


Learning Objectives

This course includes an independent study component in which students apply the knowledge and skills they already posses to thoroughly investigate a problem of their choice. It does not cover any additional theories or tools and techniques of research or analysis. Anyone wishing to seek further exposure to these or those needing them for further preparation to independent research will have to take additional courses at the SPAA or elsewhere. This course, therefore, does not have specific course objectives in a traditional sense. Yet, a successful completion of this capstone course implies that the student is able to do the following:


-    to conceive problems for viable research projects using one's own academic knowledge and skills;

-    to design professional research proposals with the needed scientific rigor, clarity, and details;

-    to conduct appropriate literature reviews creating a broader theoretical framework for the project;

-    to create a viable research design using appropriate theories, concepts, questions/hypotheses, and strategies for data collection and analysis;

-    to integrate appropriate substantive as well as methodological skills learned in other courses for a successful design and implementation of the chosen research and analysis project;

-    to efficiently and effectively implement pre-designed research projects and write reports based on appropriate analysis of the collected data;

-    to discuss findings and provide recommendations based on the application of analytical results to appropriate cultural, economic, historical, institutional, political, and diversity contexts; and

-    to demonstrate skills in professional communication and presentation.



Completion of at least 30 credit hours of MPA courses, including all core courses, or written consent of the student's MPA advisor and instructor of record. Given the focus of this course, students are likely to benefit the most by taking this course within one year of taking PADM6060.


Course Delivery Method

This course uses a seminar format where students play constantly active roles. There will be three scheduled class meetings, in which students will discuss, present, and defend their research proposals and projects. Students will also participate in class discussions as well as in critical questioning and commenting of others' projects. Students will have opportunities to learn from these discussions where fellow students and the instructor will offer constructive comments. The role of the instructor is limited to facilitating these presentations and discussions and guiding students through the entire independent research process.


Course Materials

There is no required textbook for this course. However, the following recommended readings may prove helpful in your research design, implementation, and analysis. I expect you to explore and draw from other theoretically and methodologically substantive readings for your topic.


APA. (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Creswell, J.W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Singleton, R. Jr. & Straits, B.C. (2009). Approaches to Social Research (5th ed.). London, England: Oxford University Press.


Galvan, J.L. (2006). Writing Literature Reviews: A Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.


Hedrick, T., Bickman, L., & Rog, D. (1993). Applied Research Design: A Practical Guide (Applied Social Research Methods Series: 32), Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications


Leedy, P. & Ormrod, J. (2005). Practical Research: Planning and Design (8th ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Yin, R. (2013). Case Study Research: Design and Methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Assignments and Grading
This course includes assignments geared to producing a well-designed and executed research and carefully-analyzed and well-developed project paper. These process oriented assignments include the following, together with their grade weights:


1.  Research Proposal (10% on the written proposal): This proposal including a statement of the problem, literature review, and research design is developed prior to the actual implementation of the project. The written proposal is due one week before the second class (May 29 at 5:00 pm through eLearning Dropbox). In addition to submitting a written proposal, each student will have to informally present it in the second class laying out the needed groundwork for the project and a detailed implementation plan.


2.  Project Paper (60% on the written paper): This is the final paper that incorporates all elements of the research proposal together with data analysis and results, discussion of findings, conclusion and recommendations (if applicable), and other relevant materials. The final paper is due to eLearning Dropbox at 5:00 PM on Friday, August 7. I will also need one spiral-bound hard copy of the final project paper for archival at SPAA Library.


3.  Oral Presentation or Defense (15%): Each student will have to defend the project paper by formally presenting in the last class and responding to questions or comments provided by the instructor and other students.


4.  Participation (15%): Albeit not a formal assignment, participation is a centerpiece in this seminar course. Counted toward this are the magnitude and quality of participation in class discussions including presenting one's own research proposal and offering thoughtful comments, questions, replies to others ideas, presentations, and suggestions.


Course grades will depend on student performance on each assignment or course component. Earning a superior grade such A or BA will necessitate superior performance on each of these. Keep in mind that the majority (60%) of the grade comes from the final project paper allowing you to improve your overall grade in case you did not perform as expected in other components. Yet, this cannot fully drive the overall grade as other components determine 40 percent of it. The following guidelines (all in percentage terms) will be used to determine the overall grade in the course.





D>E (Fail)   


Your project paper can fall in any substantive area within the field of public administration. I may use expert opinions of a second reader for your project paper when your problem falls in an area in which another SPAA faculty possesses more direct expertise. This is to better assess the quality of your theoretical discussions as well as methodological design and undertaking. However, I reserve the discretion to determine your grade in the project paper and the entire course.


A Note on the Written Assignments

I will provide detailed information on the assignments with specific expectations and instructions. But some general rules apply to the research proposal and the final project paper. You need to type these assignments in 8 ½ X 11 sized white papers (with at least one inch margin on all four sides in case of the proposal and with at least 1.5 inches on the left side and one inch on all other sides in case of the final paper). Use double space throughout with 12-point font size and print on one side (not both sides) in case of hard copy papers. References are to be properly formatted in the American Psychological Association style. Additionally, the final project paper must adhere to the WMU Graduate College's "Guidelines for the Preparation of Theses, Specialist Projects, and Dissertations", which can be viewed at www.wmich.edu/grad/diss-support/ dissertationsupport.html.


Make sure that you submit your proposals and papers in the desired format by the due dates. Delayed submissions are subject to reduction of grade by one or more grade categories. Let me know if you have extenuating circumstances impacting your plan once you start the course.


A Note on the Grading Criteria
Each project paper is expected to make a significant contribution to developing theories or resolving problems. While all required assignments and components are graded, the common criteria used throughout the course will be guided by the quality of your work and value it provides to the larger professional or scholarly community that is likely to utilize the research. The focus, therefore, is on the quality not the quantity of writing, analysis, and discussions. I will use the criteria (rubrics) provided in the specific guidelines to assess the quality of your work and assign grades.



Students are required to complete all course works and assignments within the semester as specified in this syllabus. A failure to do so will result in a grade of E in the course. Granting an I(ncomplete) grade will be solely at my discretion, justified only if all required works other than submitting the final project paper have been completed. In such cases, I reserve the authority to set conditions and dates for submitting the final paper and removing the I from the student's record. Students will have to withdraw from the course in case of extraordinary circumstances preventing completion of the coursework.


MPA Scholar Award


Students from this course qualify for an MPA Scholar Award provided by the SPAA on a competitive basis. I can nominate a student, whose project paper is considered to be the best in the class, for this award under the category of Best Project Paper, provided that certain criteria are met for the class as well as for the student under consideration (see the SPAA website for specific criteria).


A Note on the Human Subjects and Agency Endorsements
Research projects that involve human subjects as defined by the University must gain approval from the WMU Human Subjects Institutional Review Board (HSIRB: http://www.wmich.edu/research/hsirb/index.html). Although student projects in this course typically obtain the "exempt" status from the HSIRB, it is important to apply for their approval especially if you are planning on collecting data through surveys or interviews even though these will be conducted from institutional actors. While it would be a good idea to keep your projects simple and operationally feasible given the timeframe and available resources, there is no reason to shy away from projects that involve human subjects just because of the review process itself. Let me know if you need to apply for the HSIRB approval so that we can expedite the process.


Projects focusing on specific institutional contexts and seeking to analyze financial, operational, or performance data from specific agencies will also need endorsements or approval from the relevant agencies. This endorsement or approval needs to be obtained from the appropriate agency representative in writing prior to any data collection or analysis. Let me know in advance if you are unsure about whether such endorsement or approval is needed or how to obtain it.


Academic Honesty
"You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate and Graduate Catalogs that pertain to Academic Honesty. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. [The policies can be found at http://catalog.wmich.edu under Academic Policies, Student Rights and Responsibilities.] If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with your instructor if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test."


Project papers involve substantial analysis and writing. I advise you to maintain standard academic and research practices throughout the project. This requires both good intention and a clear idea of what constitutes academic honesty and dishonesty. Your strict follow-up of the HSIRB-approved research plan helps some of the ethnical concerns in your project. You also need to be particularly careful to avoid plagiarism which can happen deliberately as well as unknowingly. I would like to remind you that this is your project and you have the full responsibility to maintain academic honesty and respond to any issues that may arise in future. Any suspicion of academic dishonesty will be forwarded to the SPAA Director and other relevant units within the University for further investigation.


Special Needs

I would like to fully honor WMU policies regarding special accommodations for those with learning disability or such other concerns. Anyone with these concerns should contact me at the first meeting with appropriate documentation(s).


Meeting Dates and Agendas (Note that it is mandatory to attend all three classes!)


Session 1: Overview, Nuts and Bolts of Research, and Working Sessions

May 16, 2015

This session will be devoted to the review of the course including project paper expectations and schedule, a refresher on research projects and design, and reports and discussions on individual project paper problems.


Session 2: Presentation and Discussion of Research Proposals

June 6, 2015

Informal presentation of the proposed research projects and critical discussions on them.


Session 3: Project Paper Defense

August 1, 2015

Formal presentation and defense of the project papers and their reviews.