Residencies and Capstone

The Doctorate of Social Work residencies and capstone project are integral features of the doctoral training experience that will prepare you to design, lead and manage innovative social change efforts. With guidance from expert faculty, you will apply the knowledge and skills you have acquired in your courses to create an innovative proposal related to one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work that is ready for public discourse and implementation.

Faculty in our online doctorate in social work program have extensive experience researching and developing original solutions to large-scale issues. They are committed to student support and success throughout the capstone project.


During the program, you will attend two in-person residencies. Held in Los Angeles, Calif., and Washington, D.C., these experiences are an opportunity to:

  • Network with peers and faculty.
  • Participate in group discussions, workshops and off-site visits to a variety of public and private organizations.
  • Make significant progress on your capstone project.

Residency I: Qualifying Assessment

Comprising both a written capstone project proposal and an oral presentation, the Qualifying Assessment is an opportunity to confirm your project is innovative, timely and relevant to your selected Grand Challenge. However, it is fully expected that capstone projects may change following the Qualifying Assessment according to prototypes and developing ideas.

Residency II: Capstone Assessment

At the Doctorate of Social Work online program’s final residency, you must present your capstone to an audience that includes your peers, faculty and stakeholders from outside of the university with experience in social innovation and leadership of organizational and/or social change. This assessment is similar in character to a dissertation defense.

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Take the first step toward solving large-scale social challenges by requesting information about USC’s online doctorate in social work program.

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Capstone Project

The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work professional Doctorate of Social Work program 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 an artifact — 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, an artifact, and an oral presentation during Residency II.

Capstone Objectives

Students who successfully complete a Doctorate 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.

Take the Next Step

Discover how the DSW@USC program can prepare you to further your career in social work management and leadership, and design solutions to society's most pressing issues.

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