The Online Doctor of Social Work program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is designed to provide a doctoral training experience that develops individuals with the capabilities to serve as influential social change leaders.

As a student, you will complete a capstone project that demonstrates your abilities and results in a prototype — such as a business plan, large contract proposal, prototype or organizational redesign plan — that is ready for public communication and implementation. This project will require you to demonstrate and apply social innovation in the context of the diverse knowledge and skills you have acquired throughout the program.


Similar to a dissertation, the capstone provides you with a guided opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and understanding that you have acquired throughout your course of study. You are expected to identify a problem of importance connected to the Grand Challenges and develop an innovative proposal for an immediately actionable social change effort in that challenge area.

The Capstone Deliverable

The capstone should take the form of a detailed proposal for action that solves a social problem connected with one of the Grand Challenges. The final Capstone Deliverable includes three broad components: a written assessment and analysis, a prototype, and an oral defense.

Capstone Objectives

Students who successfully complete a Doctor of Social Work capstone will demonstrate their ability to:

  • Consider problems of the Grand Challenges from perspectives other than those derived from their own experience and early training.
  • Challenge prevailing norms, assumptions and beliefs about what issues underlie the Grand Challenges and what kind of leadership, policy change or practice might be required to create better outcomes in a democratic society.
  • Make judgments regarding the ways in which current practices can be undertaken more effectively and efficiently based on understanding of historical, social, policy and practice contexts, and relevant research.
  • Apply skills of practical inquiry and project development in a rigorous and systematic way to address problems identified in the Grand Challenge area(s), including framing and locating problems; acquiring, organizing and analyzing information; and planning, evaluating and implementing decisions.
  • Develop specific plans regarding changing practices, programs and/or policies in ways that lead to desired project outcomes.
  • Address Grand Challenges in ways that recognize the idiosyncratic needs of specific systems and communities as well as the characteristics of their particular context.
  • Communicate the results of practical inquiry and development to appropriate audiences using relevant and effective communication practices.

Qualifying Assessment

Comprising both a written capstone project proposal and an oral defense, the Qualifying Assessment is an opportunity to confirm your project is innovative, timely and relevant to your selected Grand Challenge. However, capstone projects may change following the Qualifying Assessment according to prototypes and developing ideas. Students are expected to complete the Qualifying Assessment by the end of their first capstone course (725a).

Capstone Assessment

During the final semester of the online Doctor of Social Work program, you must defend your Capstone Project to a faculty committee. This assessment is similar in character to a dissertation defense.

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