Capstone Project Overview

The capstone project demonstrates the MGIS student's ability to apply advanced knowledge and skills related to geographic information systems in a way that makes a substantial contribution to his or her professional work. For most students the project culminates in a formal public presentation, attended by a member of the graduate faculty associated with the MGIS program, which takes place at either an appropriate professional conference (such as annual conferences of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, or Esri). Alternative arrangements are made for students with special needs or constraints. For example, students who submit written reports of project aims and outcomes for publication in advisor-approved peer-reviewed journals are exempt from the public presentation requirement.

1. Capstone Project Proposal

Near the end of the second year of study (when students have between 17 - 23 credits), MGIS students are advised to participate in the Capstone Development Workshop.

During the entrance interview (upon your acceptance to the program), we will make a course plan. We will add you to one of the Capstone Development Workshops based on when you plan to start the capstone project. We will add you to an advising queue based on when you plan to take GEOG 596A. 

At the end of the workshop, MGIS students are asked to write a one page summary of ideas for an individual capstone project. The Advising Coordinator uses this summary to identify the most appropriate Penn State Graduate Faculty member to advise the student.

***IMPORTANT*** Students must notify the advising team ( a few months in advance of the term in which they want to register for GEOG 596A so that there is time to assign an advisor. GEOG 596A is the class you will take to complete your capstone proposal with your advisor. You will then take 596B after you have completed your work and during the term in which your capstone presentation takes place. You cannot take 596A to overlap with 596B (even the three week overlap won't work). We recommend you take 596A, then take an elective (or take a semester off), and then register for 596B during the term in which you will present your capstone at a conference.******

2. Adviser Assignment

After we get your capstone project proposal, we will begin to look for an adviser for you based on that topic. We will make the introduction between you and your adviser prior to you starting GEOG 596A.

This is a video we created for advisers so that they know what is entailed in the capstone project. Students may also find it to be helpful.

3. GEOG 596A - Capstone Project Prospectus and Online Presentation

(You will need permission to register for GEOG 596A - please see the important note above.)

GEOG 596A: Individual Studies--Peer Review: Preparation and presentation of a proposal for an individual capstone project

Information for Students Who Are Working on Their Project Proposal

Since the project proposal forms the basis for your capstone project, each of you will be working with your program advisor on your proposal. Therefore, proposal formats will likely vary, as each advisor may have different requirements for the length and format of the written project proposal. The written project proposal and PPT slides from the online seminar at the end of the semester are due the evening the student presents their seminar. These should be uploaded to the MGIS Peer Review area on Adobe Connect the evening of the student's presentation.

A typical proposal format would include the following sections:

  1. Background
  2. Goals and Objectives
  3. Proposed Methodology
  4. Project Timeline
  5. Possible presentation venue
  6. Anticipated Results

While your work schedule for the course will vary depending on what is agreed upon between you and your program advisor, here is a typical course schedule:

  • Part 1 (Weeks 1-3)
    1. Refine the problem - Narrative discussion of research to be conducted and why it's important
    2. Literature review - Conduct a review of the relevant literature pertaining to the proposed problem/project. Identify significant literature, including major issues, approaches used, gaps in knowledge, lessons learned, history of issues, and future of the issues, include formal reference citations
  • Part 2 (Weeks 4-6)
    1. Identify research approach
    2. Identify research steps/methods
    3. Identify anticipated research results
  • Part 3 (Weeks 7-9)
    1. Develop rough draft of consolidated narrative
    2. Develop PowerPoint presentation
    3. Instructor review and comment on narrative and presentation
  • Part 4 (Week 10 or 11)
    1. Present via Zoom. Recordings are posted in the Capstone Project Library:
    2. Fill out evaluations for each of your peers:
    3. Collect peer review comments in the student database:
    4. Revise narrative and presentation based on peer review
    5. Deliverable to advisor: project proposal write-up.

4. GEOG 596B - Capstone Project Presentation at a Professional Conference

(You will need permission to register for GEOG 596B. Your capstone presentation information must appear on the Capstone Project Presentations page before you'll be allowed to register for GEOG 596B.

GEOG 596B: Individual Studies--Capstone Project: Preparation and delivery of a formal professional presentation of the results of an individual capstone project.

Most MGIS candidates are required to present their capstone project at a professional conference which they attend at their own expense or with their employer's support. Students who cannot afford to attend a conference, or have other professional objectives, may seek their advisor's approval to write and submit a project report to a suitable peer-reviewed journal.

Elements of Successful Capstone Project Presentations and Papers

Not every element in the following list is applicable to every capstone project. However, all MGIS students will do well to consider these elements when planning their projects and presentations.

  • Explain project context: Help your audience to situate your project within both a particular work setting and, ideally, in relation to the corpus of domain knowledge outlined in the Geographic Information Science and Technology Body of Knowledge. Introductory material should illuminate not only the unique aspects of the project but also those characteristics that are generalizable to other settings.
  • Present evidence-based problem definition: One's belief that a problem exists is usually insufficient justification for allocating resources to a proposed solution. Professionals define problems in light of evidence collected from user surveys, interviews, and other systematic quantitative and qualitative methods.
  • Consider previous related efforts: Rare indeed are unprecedented problems. Successful MGIS projects benefit from lessons learned and reported by others. Naive projects neglect to review relevant literature or consult with experienced colleagues in comparable situations.
  • Leverage knowledge and skills learned: Classes included in the MGIS curriculum present a variety of analytical methods and systematic project design and management processes. Successful projects implement such methods, and identify them explicitly.
  • Evaluate outcomes: Successful projects include plans to evaluate formally the extent to which the project achieved its objectives, and to analyze unanticipated consequences.

Example Project Presentations

Registered MGIS students can access past capstone project presentations and/or papers through the Library link in the Resources section of the Program Office (at left). In addition, some projects are designated by the MGIS Advising Team as "exemplary." In addition to embodying the elements listed above, exemplary projects result in peer-reviewed publications or attract extraordinary recognition within the student's field. Exemplary projects are showcased at Graduate faculty advisors and MGIS graduates themselves may nominate projects for the "exemplary" designation by contacting

5. Written Final Project Report

Students who present project results at a professional conference are expected to submit a written final project report, along with presentation slides, to their advisor, the MGIS Advising Coordinator and the Program Manager ( The final project report should be similar to the project prospectus, but should include project results and next steps. Project reports will vary in length, but should be sufficient to understand the specific objectives of the capstone work and the steps taken in the project.

  • Project Evaluation - Graduate faculty advisors evaluate capstone projects. Following the capstone presentation or paper submission, MGIS advisors deliver project evaluations to the student and the MGIS Advising Coordinator. Advisors may conclude that students have fulfilled the requirements of the capstone project, or that additional assignments must be completed before the student is approved for graduation. You will be assigned a final grade for each capstone class (596A and 596B).
  • Capstone Student Center - During the first capstone course (Geog 596A) you will be added to the Capstone Student Center. This is a space where you can "hangout" with other students, post questions and get help, as well as share information and find out about local and online events at PSU. We also host a live meetup regularly with our Tea Time and Pub Time event and look forward to meeting you.
  • Project Reflection - The final step of the capstone is providing students time to reflect on their accomplishments and identify what worked well and what didn't. On completion of the capstone project students will be sent an link where they can reflect on the process, skills (technical and soft) learned and applied, identify what worked well and what didn't, what challenges they faced and how they overcame these, evaluate their timeline and how that may have changed and why (project management) as well as provide words of wisdom for future students.