Capstone projects in the School of Public Policy (SPP) offer undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to apply their knowledge, skills and perspectives in the policy world. Students partner with government, private and nonprofit organizations to deliver tangible reports and analyses to serve the public interest.
For her capstone project, Rachel Kester MPP ’21, an active-duty Air Force officer, opted to compose the semiannual 1225 Congressional Report “Ensuring Security and Stability in Afghanistan.” In order to conduct this research, which centered on U.S./Coalition and Afghani defense operations, Kester conducted interviews with 25 government agencies and developed her assessments into a cohesive narrative. Her draft was then reviewed by civilian and military leadership before she was able to publicly publish the unclassified aspects of the document. Throughout this process, Kester was challenged to write a complete and comprehensible report.
“I think my supervisor put it best when he told me that ‘In writing in the 1225 Report, we are ultimately writing history,’” she explains. “With this in mind, we strived to make the report as comprehensive and accurate as possible while also remaining cognizant of length and readability.”
Kester found her coursework at SPP valuable throughout this process. Through her in-class reports and memos, she learned how to condense large amounts of information and develop a concise writing style. Her electives on U.S. policy and history in the Middle East also provided Kester with the necessary background information to successfully complete the project, including PLCY720 and PLCY699K.
“I opted for the International Security and Economic Policy (ISEP) specialization to gain a better understanding of the complex realities of international security issues,” says Kester. “My hope is that my experience at UMD will make me a better leader and decision-maker as I transition into the operational Air Force, since it has provided me with a solid grasp of the settings and conflicts that the U.S. military is involved in.”
During her graduate studies, Kester served as a Rosenthal Fellow in International Relations in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. The prestigious fellowship is offered through the Partnership for Public Service and offers outstanding graduate students summer positions within various executive and congressional offices.
“My fellowship at the Pentagon offered me a unique vantage point to witness the merging of operational and strategic defense policy,” explains Kester. “I witnessed the direct impacts of how the policy products that my team and I created impacted our personnel in the field. Seeing my research travel to the hands of the Secretary of Defense or National Security Advisor to be carried out by real men and women overseas was a humbling experience that taught me firsthand the complexities of formulating and implementing international security-related policy.”