Fels Lab Frequently Asked Questions

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Fels Lab connects students with projects that serve the real-world needs of nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Fels Lab projects address a specific need and offer new insights or approaches to solving a problem.

Projects are mutually beneficial to students and community partners. Students have the opportunity to learn new skills and gain practical experience in their area of interest, while contributing meaningfully to the important work of the public sector. Fels Lab community partners advance their mission-critical initiatives and receive professional advice and useful recommendations at a low cost.

The document aims to address the most frequently asked questions, but please feel free to contact Euria Chung at echung@upenn.edu for additional clarification.

Fels Lab overview

What kind of projects should I submit?

All projects must focus on a clearly defined problem or need. As a clearinghouse of opportunities for collaboration with community organizations, Fels Lab welcomes a diverse set of projects. Projects can touch upon any area of public policy, such as criminal justice, education, energy, international relations, or social policy. Some projects involve providing targeted, practical assistance through strategic plans or fundraising support. Other projects involve quantitative analysis, process tracing, or program evaluation.

How many projects can my organization submit?

Organizations are welcome to submit multiple projects, but community partners with two or more matched projects may be capped in their participation in Fels Lab.

What kinds of organizations should submit a Fels Lab project proposal?

We encourage all nonprofit organizations and government agencies to submit proposals! A priority is placed on sharing projects from local, nonprofit organizations in Philadelphia, Camden, Wilmington, and neighboring communities. Submissions and matches are encouraged for community partners with limited resources, strong technical assistance needs, and missions to serve disadvantaged populations.

What kinds of projects are students most likely to select?

Fels Lab seeks out a diverse set of projects, but since unique student interests drive the project matching process, some projects may be more likely to “match” than others. Based on a recent student interest survey, we believe that Fels Lab projects involving strategic planning, program evaluation, performance management, policy analysis, and/or program development have the highest likelihood of student selection.

How much time will my organization need to invest if selected?

Students and community partners should determine how frequently in-person meetings, fieldwork, and other on-site trips should occur. Site visits may be minimal or numerous depending upon the project. If the project is based near Philadelphia, a student may seek to meet with a community partner on a regular basis. At minimum, students should actively keep in touch with community partners via regular phone conversations and email exchanges. Students may work remotely most of the time, but must have reliable and consistent access to information and contacts at the organization.

How can my organization best provide support to the student completing our project?

Community partners can best support students by clearly identifying a need, setting expectations regarding project deliverables, giving access to all relevant information or data, and offering feedback on interim or final products. Community partners should help the student understand their perspective and meet their goals without closing themselves off to external, objective review. Students completing the project should not be treated as employees. It is not expected that community partners cover costs associated with travel or out-of-pocket expenditures.

Most students engaging with community partners through the Fels Lab will be doing so as a part of their final capstone project. Students completing the project as a capstone project should not be paid for their efforts. Students completing a Fels Lab project outside of the parameters of their capstone project, such as through an internship, may be compensated.
When can I expect a project deliverable from the student to be submitted?

Most Fels Lab projects are completed in fulfillment of students’ capstone requirement. Capstone projects are due in either April or July (depending on if the student is taking the capstone course in the spring semester or summer semester). Please indicate in your project proposal what completion timeline works best for your project. Partner organizations are encouraged and invited to come to campus to hear their student’s capstone presentations on the last day of class.

My project might be better for an intern rather than for a student’s capstone project—how should I proceed?

If your organization needs support, but those needs are not as focused on a singular project as a Fels Lab project should be, you may simply benefit from a Fels intern. We are always looking for internship opportunities to share with our students. Please send your internship job description to Euria Chung at echung@upenn.edu to add to our internships listing.

My project proposal is more research-based than problem-focused—should I still submit my proposal?

Some proposals may be strongly research-based rather than oriented toward addressing a specific organizational need. These projects can be approved via Fels Lab, however they are advertised as research opportunities. An example of a research opportunity might include completing a study of a policy intervention with a Fels faculty member or developing a literature review for an individual policy consultant.

Can I see what kinds of Fels Lab projects have been approved in the past?

Previously approved Fels Lab projects from the 2017-18 academic year can be found on the Archived Fels Lab Project page.

Application process

How do I submit my Fels Lab project proposal?

All community partners must submit their Fels Lab project proposal through the Fels Lab Submission Form webpage.

When are Fels Lab project proposals due?

Students complete their capstones in the spring or summer semesters, but choose projects mid-fall. Given that timeline, Fels Lab accepts projects on a rolling basis in the summer and fall for completion in the spring and following summer.

How will my project proposal be evaluated?                            

Proposals are evaluated based on:

  • Clarity: Are project needs and goals clearly specified?
  • Feasibility: Can this project be reasonably undertaken by a student?
  • Practicality: Can a student learn or gain useful skills from this experience?
  • Impact: Can this project make a valuable public service contribution?
  • Timeline: Does the timeline of the project match the students’ timelines through capstone or internship experiences?
  • Deliverable: Does the project have a clear deliverable that students will complete? Does the organization have a firm enough understanding of what a “finished” project will look like?

What happens after I submit my project proposal?

Following submission from the online form, a project proposal is reviewed by a committee of Fels staff and faculty members. The committee then decides to approve, reject, or invite revision and resubmission of the proposal. We aim to inform organizations of decisions within ten days of submission.

Student match process

If my project is approved, how will I be matched to a student who will work on my project?

After your project is approved, it is available for students to view and select as an internship or capstone project if he or she chooses. Priority is given to students who choose the project as a capstone. We cannot guarantee students will take on your project, but we encourage those who would be a good fit. Students submit an interest survey to us by in October ranking their top five project choices. We then match students and introduce successful matches in November.

Will there be an opportunity for our organization to come to campus to speak to students about the project before they select their top five choices?

Last year, we hosted a Fels Lab Opportunity Fair and an Opportunity Showcase for organizations to come to campus and meet with students and make a presentation about their organization and project. Based on feedback received, we have decided it is more efficient this year for organizations to submit short video clips to introduce their project to students. This is optional, but a short 2-3-minute video clip may generate additional enthusiasm for the projects and hopefully encourage a student take on yours. A sample video and additional instructions are provided to organizations once their projects are approved. We anticipate a video submission deadline of no later than Friday, September 28.

What if no student selects my project?

While a project may be approved by Fels administration, there are no guarantees students will select it. We contact all organizations to provide an update at the end of November. If a student has not selected your project by then, we then ask you if you would like to keep the project open for the remainder of the academic year for potential internship matches.

If a student does not select my project this year, can I carry forward the project to next year?

Since Fels Lab projects focus on real-world needs that are ever-changing, organizations must re-submit project proposals each academic year.

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326

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