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Practical Experiences

Real-world experience is an important part of the MPP program at the Sanford School. Effective policymakers need the professional skills to apply their analysis and to communicate their proposals effectively. In addition to extensive education and training, MPP students receive hands-on opportunities to hone their skills.

"The Sanford School faculty aren't just academics. Within a few moments of talking with any of your professors, you realize they are drawing on a vast wealth of actual policymaking experience."—Rob Lalka MPP'08 

Spring Consulting Projects

During the spring semester, teams of first-year MPP students serve as consultants to clients with actual problems in a variety of policy areas. The semester begins with a 48-hour memo experience to learn teamwork skills and ends with student consultants giving real clients recommendations to address their problems. Students define a problem and frame a policy question, conduct interviews in the field, research and develop policy options, undertake analysis, draw conclusions, and make recommendations to the client. 

The Spring Consulting Project helps prepare students for their master’s projects and gives them concrete experience to show future employers.

Recent clients include:

  • Greater New Orleans, Inc.
  • N.C. Department of Revenue
  • Durham Affordable Housing Coalition
  • N.C. Community College System
  • Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers
  • N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance

You can also see MPP students in action in this additional video on the Spring Consulting Projects.

Judson Bonick, Rose Kerber, Lauren Oliver, and Ariadne Rivera consulted for the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research during the spring of 2015. The students investigated Alzheimer's disease in the state of North Carolina, analyzing the rates of the disease and caregiving options for patients. They also looked to other states to learn about their comprehensive plans. Browse the project materials here.

Professional Writing Instruction

In professional settings, the ability to write succinct, clear, and effective memoranda and policy papers is invaluable. Our students receive extensive feedback and one-on-one coaching from our writing instructor to develop their writing skills.

Internships Around the Globe

During the summer after the first year, MPP students complete required internships. These positions allow them to field test their new analytical tools, make connections for their master’s projects, determine areas for further study, and perhaps discover a career they love—or cross one off their list.

"Getting out into the field with Professor Pattanayak was terrific. He always stressed the importance of relying on hard empirical evidence for policy analysis because theoretical models fail to capture how people actually act. Witnessing firsthand how theory-based policies have failed to translate into reality will inform all my future work."—T.J. Lowdermilk MPP'11

Recent MPP student have spent their summers at organizations such as:

  • The World Bank
  • UNICEF, New Delhi, India
  • US Agency for International Development
  • Action Aid, Ghana
  • FBI: Counterintelligence Unit
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • US Senate Finance Committee
  • World Health Organization
  • Agilent Technologies
  • UN Environmental Programme​

Highlight for Basic Page

  • MPP Students Learning in the Field in India

    Real World Experience and Practical Skills

    MPP students Ipsita Das and TJ Lowdermilk spent time in India to understand social policy in action.

"When I was trying to get an internship at the World Bank, the intimate, personal connections that the Sanford School had there made all the difference. Because of those connections, they were able to help me out and facilitate exactly the sort of experience I was looking for."—Caleb Varner MPP/MBA'11

In the audio clip to the left, listen to Abigail Sylvester, a Duke Geneva Program alumni who interned with the UN Environment Programme, discuss her experience.

Our students travel near and far to put their policy skills in action. Read this article on Duke's Internship in India program, and visit the MPP internship blog to hear directly from other MPP students about their diverse internship experiences. 

Sample Internships & Locations


Capstone Master’s Research Project

As a capstone to the MPP degree, all students complete a master’s project. This yearlong policy research project allows students a second, in-depth, real-world opportunity to employ all their MPP skills while working closely with a faculty advisor.

For his masters project, Tyler Gamble explored the application of principles from behavioral economics to property tax payment. He ran an experiment with Guilford County, N.C.  to find out if small changes to a single letter could get more people to pay their taxes on time.



Recent Master’s Projects reflect the variety of clients and breadth of topics Duke students tackle:

  • An Analysis of the Impact of Regulatory Reform on the Financial Losses of Power Sector Utilities in India
  • The Stories Not Told: Understanding the Gap in Local Accountability News Coverage
  • Beyond Criminalization: Building a Victims-Centered Approach to Combating Human Trafficking in Massachusetts
  • Government to Person (G2P) Payments via Mobile Devices in Equador - Creating a New National Electronic Currently and Using It to Decentralize the Economy
  • Using Microfinance to Combat Illegal Logging in East Kalimantan, Indonesia
  • AIDS Orphans and Education in Eastern and Southern Africa

Master’s Project requirements can be found in the MPP Student Handbook. You can see more Master's Project examples here. 

Learn how to apply to the Sanford MPP program.