MSGA Capstone Requirements

Completing the MSGA Program

In order to earn the MSGA degree, all students must complete 6 credit hours of MSGA 595: Capstone Project. The last three credits of MSGA 595 must be completed in the students’ final semester.

The Capstone Project

The MSGA capstone project must be an intensive independent research project utilizing theories, methods, and techniques acquired through the completion of other MSGA courses. The required 6 credit hours can be thought of as being divided as follows:

First 3 credits: Preliminary research, literature review, project design/methodology, and initial data collection

Last 3 credits: Final data collection, refining and implementing project design/methodology, presentation of results and conclusions

Proposing a Capstone Project

Students are responsible for choosing their capstone project and should begin discussing project topics with faculty members as early as possible after matriculating into the MSGA program and identify a faculty advisor for their capstone project. A project may build upon a project started in one of the program’s courses, may be based on employment or internship experience, or may derive from some other source. The advisor must be a full-time member of the MSGA faculty but need not be a student’s academic advisor. Working with their capstone advisor, a student should prepare a project proposal which must be approved by the advisor and by one other full-time MSGA faculty member. Once these approvals are granted, the Department Chair will sign the paperwork necessary to register for MSGA 595.

Timelines for Registering for MSGA 595

For full time students, the capstone project will be initiated and completed in a single semester – usually the Summer semester. This means that the project proposal must be completed and approved during the prior semester (see table below). This will require students to conduct preliminary research and prove the feasibility of the project before registering for MSGA 595.

Part time students may complete the first 3 credit hours of MSGA 595 during the semester prior to their final semester in the program. In order to do this, however, the project proposal must be approved the semester before work on the capstone is started (see table below).


For Capstone Beginning in: Proposal Must be Approved by:
Summer (May – July) Friday closest to April 1
Fall (August – December) Friday closest to June 1
Spring (January – May) Friday closest to November 1


Capstone Proposals

To be approved, a capstone proposal must:

  1. have a clearly stated research question or topic;
  2. expound upon that problem in relevant literature from completed MSGA coursework;
  3. have a clearly outlined methodology using appropriate geospatial techniques that build from skills learned in MSGA courses;
  4. include a detailed timeline for completion of the project noting when data collection will be finalized, when different analyses will be performed, when paper drafts will be submitted, etc.;
  5. document that all data necessary to complete the project are available;
  6. include a bibliography of relevant literature and methodology articles, papers, reports, and/or books that address both the question and the method to be used.
  7. email this document to your prospective advisor for feedback and approval.

Capstone Project Committee

Once the capstone proposal is approved, the student will work with their advisor to form a committee. A committee will consist of the capstone advisor, the other member of the MSGA faculty who approved the proposal, and one other member of the UMW faculty chosen because their area of expertise enhances the project. The role of the committee is to provide students with advice while they work on their capstone project and to evaluate the final capstone paper and presentation.

Capstone Project Timelines

During the proposal process, the student should work with their capstone advisor to set up a detailed calendar for their capstone semester(s). Key deadlines include the end of data collection, the completion of analysis, when drafts of different sections of the paper will be finished and reviewed by the advisor, etc. Failure to plan ahead is one of the major reasons students fail to complete a capstone project.

Capstone Project Requirements

At the end of semester when a student completes a capstone project, they will submit a final report – complete with maps and other relevant illustrations – and make a formal presentation of their findings to their capstone committee. The PowerPoint presentation must include well-designed visuals (demonstration of web-GIS, or animation, for example).

Capstone Report

The capstone report will most likely exceed 20 pages (double-spaced, 12 point font) excluding illustrations and tables, title page and table of contents. In most cases it will be outlined as follows:

  1. Abstract: 250 word maximum, summarizing the project.
  2. Introduction: Identifies the geospatial question or problem, explains its significance, and introduces and defends the methodology used. Identifies and maps the project study area, if relevant.
  3. A comprehensive literature review of previous studies that define key topical concepts and theories and critically examine how geospatial methods have been used in these works. It should end in a detailed statement of problem, question, or hypothesis.
  4. Methodology:  a detailed description of, and explanation of the rationale behind the choice of, variables, data sources, and analytical operations performed. Acknowledgement of the advantages and limitations presented by the chosen data, scale, and data structures (file types) must also be included.
  5. Results:  a concise description of results with appropriate tables, figures, and/or maps. May include screen shots of major system or program interfaces developed for data collection, analysis, or other purposes.
  6. Analysis and Discussion: a thorough interpretation of results given the project’s initial research question, problem, or hypothesis and previous work related to the topic discussed in the literature review. Should note limitations and point the way towards future research.


It is the responsibility of the student, working with capstone advisor, to set a date for the capstone presentation when all members of the committee are available. The presentation will be open to the public.

The capstone presentation should be approximately 20 minutes long and will be followed by a question and answer session. Please consider this to be a formal, professional presentation and prepare appropriately.


Students completing the capstone over two semesters will submit a draft of the following sections of their capstone paper to their capstone advisor at the end of the first semester: introduction, literature review, project design/methodology, and description of data collected. Their grade for that semester will be based on the quality of that submission.

Students completing the capstone in a single semester are required submit an interim report to their capstone advisor by the midpoint of that semester.

For all students, the final evaluation of their capstone project will occur after their presentation. Following the presentation, the capstone committee will confer, decide whether the student has passed the MSGA capstone requirement, and assign a letter grade.