EME 466
Energy and Sustainability in Society

Capstone Project Overview


The Capstone Project makes a case for, or against, a policy, action, plan or proposal currently in the public arena, of interest to the student and relevant to energy and sustainability policy.

The arc of the project includes a rigorous and in-depth examination of the issue, development of a well-articulated position on the issue, an in-person presentation recommendation to an audience engaged on the issue of the student’s findings and recommendation, and a recorded presentation that will be made available on public media (YouTube) and the ESP Program Office website.

This is a special opportunity for you to spend time doing in-depth investigation, reporting, and advocacy on a topic of genuine personal and professional interest to you! The work you do here will sharpen your skills in many areas, giving you confidence and experience that will carry over into your professional life from researching opportunities and "players," to interviewing, to designing and executing projects, making and engaging new contacts, working with communities and communicating effectively, both in writing and in person.

As you work on this project, keep a forward-looking perspective. Think to yourself, what am I learning now about what to do, think, question and communicate, that is going to help me in the future? Observe; reflect. When things go well, and when they do not, look for meaning and lessons.

We hope this course is a satisfying and meaningful course for you with lasting implications. We are here to help you make it so! Remember, though this course has no assigned reading, assessments or weekly lessons, it is a 3-credit course. Use your time to research and investigate your topic thoroughly. You should plan to spend at least 8 hours each week doing work related to this course. Engage with others, make site visits--connect with groups, organizations, and industry in your community and elsewhere. Once you get the ball rolling, you'll be delighted how easy and rewarding it is to meet others and get involved.
The following pages outline the requirements for each of the Capstone Project deliverables. If you have questions, please contact your coach or the course instructor. We will be glad to help you!

Alternative Project Structures

Alternative capstone project structures may be proposed and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. To be considered for approval, a proposed project must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Relevant to Energy and Sustainability Policy
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Student presentation
  • Academic research and writing
  • Clear objectives, timeline, and structure
  • Scope of effort equivalent to three academic credit hours

If you would like to propose an alternative capstone project structure, please contact the EME 466 instructor. Requests must be made before the General Ideas due date on the course calendar.

Spring 2018 Special Opportunity

The Penn State Sustainability Institute, in collaboration with the State College Borough, seeks a student to review the 2006 and 2014 inventories for borough GHG emissions (specifically related to the waste management sector) to assess similarities and key differences in methodological approaches to assess how the varied methodological approaches affect the overall results. Expanding upon this, the student will then work with the Borough to evaluate which methodological approach should be standardized for subsequent inventory updates and revise the existing inventories based on available data so that the waste emissions reported across each reflect a standardized approach. This will help the Borough make informed decisions about mitigation opportunities and benchmarking success over the next several years. Additionally, the student will need to account for the ongoing Borough-wide composting initiative and how this offsets waste sector emissions.

The student will be expected to work independently, communicate results professionally and concisely, and develop strong working relationships with both the Sustainability Institute and the State College Borough. The results of this work will be presented to Borough officials at the end of the semester with deliverables including:

  • Detailed description of the differences in the two methodological approaches
  • Recommendation for a standardized approach moving forward (either one of the existing approaches or a new one altogether) which is grounded in relevant literature
  • Revised Waste Sector emissions for one or both inventories based on recommended methodology
  • Recommendation for methodology for quantifying avoided emissions from composting projects

Necessary skills? Comfortable working with Excel-based data and enjoys using quantitative methods to solve a problem. Beyond that though, we really need someone who can take those numbers and look critically at them to identify the differences in methodological approaches and develop an informed opinion about the best way to proceed. This student will need to do some digging into other local-scale inventorying work and gain an understanding of the ways in which waste emissions can be accounted for so that they can present options to the Borough about the most appropriate way to do it. So, we’re looking for a critical thinker.

Do I need to be in State College? No, the work can be done at a distance and the presentation can be done using Skype or Zoom.

I’m interested! What do I do? Prepare a written statement describing your interest in the project and why you feel it is a good fit for you. Using course email, send your description to the Course Instructor (Vera Cole). The request must be received before the General Ideas due date on the course calendar.