Health Behavior Capstone Project

Class of 2014 MPH students chat with Capstone Day attendees about the work they accomplished over the second year of their program with community-based organizations.

The yearlong Capstone project is the cornerstone of the health behavior MPH training program.

Combining coursework and mentored field training, Capstone allows students to synthesize knowledge acquired through academic studies and apply it to public health problems faced by local organizations and research groups. The main focus is on students to gain experience through action and learn how to foster relationships with community members, a critical skill to possess in the public health field. Capstone exemplifies our long-standing commitment to fieldwork for the past 70 years, and no other peer public health school offers a project as extensive as this.

Over the second year of the MPH program, teams of 4-6 students work with a different community partner on a set of deliverables that match the needs of the organization and the interests of the students. These projects act in place of the master’s paper. The benefits of Capstone are two-fold: 1) Students have a substantive learning experience and tackle real-world public health issues; and 2) Community partners gain significant value from the experience, knowledge and skill-set of MPH students in order to achieve program objectives.

Watch Capstone in action!

The below video features the Orange County Department on Aging’s Capstone teams and their critical work to help seniors in the area.

UNC Department of Health Behavior’s Capstone Project from UNC Health Behavior on Vimeo.

Capstone project work allows students to develop a wide range of skills such as:

  • Community engagement and assessment
  • Strategic or program planning
  • Curriculum and intervention development, adaptation, implementation and evaluation
  • Designing and conducting qualitative, formative and survey research
  • Policy advocacy and analysis
  • Grant and report writing
  • Social marketing campaign and communication strategy development

Capstone Successes

2013-2014 Work Well, Live Well Capstone team

2013-2014 Work Well, Live Well Capstone team

Improving Work-Site Wellness Among UNC Facilities Services Staff

Much research has shown that workplace wellness programs lead to lower medical costs and greater productivity among employees (Trust for America’s Health). Unfortunately, many employees do not take full advantage of their employer’s wellness benefits and programs, which in turn can negatively impact their health. Low-wage and shift workers are particularly at high risk of many health conditions as a result of their type of work and compensation, but their participation rates in work-site wellness programs are lower than their higher-earning counterparts. This is especially evident with the UNC Facilities Services staff, many of who are low-income and immigrants, even escaping ethnic persecution.

To combat these low rates, the UNC 2013-2014 Work Well, Live Well Capstone team worked with the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health (CCRWH) to create a formative research report and Wellness Action Plan. The Capstone team investigated the barriers and facilitators to participation in work-site wellness programs. Through interviews and focus groups with front-line workers and administrators, they found that factors such as exhaustion, lack of communication and limited time prevent staff members from participating. However, better program hours and management support may help increase involvement. These findings are discussed in their formative research report, which in turn informed the Wellness Action Plan.The action plan was crafted with the particular needs of shift-workers in mind and offers suggestion to improve the work environment.

In May 2014 as the Capstone team members graduated, they were able to add to their already tremendous contributions to CCRWH by securing funds to help implement their Wellness Action Plan. These funds were the result of winning a $2,500 implementation grant from Strowd Roses, a local nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting the greater community of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The 2014-2015 Capstone team will use these funds to lay out and implement the first stages of a pilot wellness program for UNC Facilities Services staffers, as well as conduct a process evaluation. UNC is optimistic that, as a result of the dedicated work from last year’s and this year’s Capstone teams, university employee health will be on an upward trend.

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2012-2013 Harm Reduction Coalition Capstone team

Reducing Unintentional Drug Overdose Deaths Through Policy Advocacy

Drug overdoses kill more than 1,000 people each year in North Carolina. But thanks to the work of the 2012-2013 NC Harm Reduction Coalition Capstone team and other harm reduction advocates, we may soon see that number go down.


HRC 2012-2013 Capstone team member Allison Glasser promotes the Good Samaritan bill at the NC General Assembly.

On April 3, 2013, the NC general assembly passed the 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access bill. This piece of legislation will reduce unintentional drug overdose deaths and was a huge win for the state as it was the only positive health-related bill passed during that legislative period. The Capstone team’s primary work was to promote and advocate for the passage of the bill. Capstone team members engaged in several activities to educate and raise awareness and support for this policy, including planning and hosting a legislative summit on overdose prevention in Raleigh, NC, as well as media advocacy such as multiple published Op Eds and Letters to the Editor.

With the passage of the 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access bill, anyone can seek help without the fear of being prosecuted when someone has alcohol poisoning or is overdosing. Under this new law, a person who suffers a drug overdose and the person who seeks help for them, including those underage, can’t be prosecuted for most low-level drug offenses or for possession of drug paraphernalia. Additionally, this law makes it easier for people to get access to naloxone, the antidote for an opioid overdose by permitting practitioners acting in good faith to prescribe this life-saving drug to people at risk of overdose as well as to their friends and family members without fear of civil or criminal liability.

The 2013-2014 NCHRC Capstone team continued the success of the previous year’s team by increasing access to naloxone at UNC and wrote a naloxone policy for the UNC System that can be adapted to other college campuses. For more information please visit 

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2011-2012 Orange County Department on Aging Capstone team

Providing for Seniors in Orange County

The 2011-2012 Orange County Department on Aging (OCDOA) Capstone team developed the county’s 2012-2017 Master Aging Plan (MAP)—a strategic plan for the future of a growing elderly population in the county. Over the 2011 summer, two practicum students had conducted a community assessment with county residents and identified five important areas for the MAP to address. The Capstone team then planned a community forum to generate additional topic areas of public interest with the help of OCDOA staff and Alyssa Roberts Bates.

Topics from the summer community assessment and fall community forum were prioritized and streamlined to form five work group topics: Health and Wellness, Housing, Aging in Place, Navigation and Transportation, and Community Engagement. In partnership with OCDOA staff, the Capstone students each facilitated five work group meetings, each including 10-20 community members, county officials, and local professionals, and drafted the MAP objective, strategies and indicators.

Having incorporated revisions from a month-long public comment period and various oversight committees, the final 2012-2017 MAP was presented to the Board of County Commissioners on May 1st. The Capstone team presented the MAP development process to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging, and the process has received coverage in The Daily Tar Heel and The Chapel Hill News.

The OCDOA continues to refer to MAP and has had two more Capstone teams to address certain issues identified by the plan. The 2012-2013 team created a communication plan to better reach older adults in the area, and the 2013-2014 team developed and pilot-tested the Project EngAGE program. Project EngAGE is designed to train seniors as resource leaders within the community to assist peers in need of help.

What Agencies Are Saying About Capstone

HB-Mary-Fraser-Community-Partner “I think the Capstone project is a tremendous opportunity for students to learn about the application of public health principles, skills, and techniques. Our Capstone teams brought a great deal of energy and attention to detail to their projects… It’s been wonderful to see all the things we’ve been able to do with their help.” – Mary Fraser, preceptor
“We benefitted in so many ways from having a Capstone Team. First, there is such limited capacity (human and financial) in Caswell County that the work the students conducted could have NEVER happened without their support. Overall, the fact that the Community Transformation Grant Project invested its time and energy into applying for and receiving a Capstone team showed the community that we were dedicated to improving their well-being. Then, once the team was on board, they really showed a sincere dedication to the people in Caswell County. They attended food council meetings, steering committee meetings, visited farms and frequented area businesses. The county really began embracing both them and us with open arms. They have most certainly improved our credibility in the County. Second, their work has really provided the background and data needed to bring more diverse partners on board, including the new Planning Director, Economic Development and Cooperative Extension. We are very excited to see what happens in the next few months due to their work.” – Annie Martinie, preceptor
Are you an organization that is interested in being a Capstone partner? Visit our community partners page for more information.