When Capstone Week arrives at the Columbia School of Social Work, second-year M.S. students are filled with excitement because it means graduation is just around the corner. But then they remember that they must surmount the challenge of working in teams with fellow students, many of whom have specialized in other social work methods, to tackle a real-life case study on a contemporary social issue. Capstone, which literally means a stone fixed on top of a wall, represents the culmination of two years of study at the graduate level.

Last year’s  year’s capstone challenge, “Spiraling into Poverty,” focused on the case of a family that had sunk into poverty in the aftermath of the economic downturn of 2007. Groups of approximately twenty students each were asked to develop a set of recommendations at three levels: 1)To assist the family in dealing with financial instability (micro anslysis). 2) To assess the organizational policies and procedures of agencies that support economically unstable or newly poor or near poor families (mezzo-analysis). 3) To identify structural issues that frame the economic instability of the family, including the dynamics and causes of long-term unemployment and wage stagnation (macro analysis).