Carnegie Mellon University

Project Courses

The capstone experience for EPP undergraduates consists of problem-solving project courses to synthesize technology-policy issues with social science analysis. In the EPP Projects Course, students experience working on unstructured, real-world problems that, for proper treatment, require teamwork and contributions from diverse disciplines.

A common lament from recruiters of undergraduates is a lack of general team-oriented, multi-faceted, problem-solving skills, along with poor written and oral communication skills to a broad audience. The EPP Projects courses provides all of those skills to students, and is the course most often identified by our alumni as the essential course of their undergraduate careers. Offered each semester, the courses involve faculty and students from EPP, the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, and the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon. EPP Doctoral students serve as project managers. Problem areas are abstracted from local, state and national situations and involve the interaction of technology and public policy.

Course Description

In each project course, students work in multidisciplinary teams (engineers, computer science students, humanities and social science students, public policy and management graduate students) on a “cutting edge” project topic with very little in the way of “pre-digested” analysis or solutions.  Project faculty attempt to choose topics with both technical and social dimensions, requiring multi-dimensional analysis.  Students are given a general goal, and are expected to discover existing knowledge on the topic, to research existing policies relevant to the topic, and analyze alternatives that make society better off.  Using this background research, and their technical and social analysis education as appropriate, the students then create new knowledge on the subject.  This knowledge is communicated to an external advisory panel, selected from experts and constituencies of importance to the issue.  Students give interim reports during the semester, after which the advisory panel may make suggestions on direction and scope of the work. A final oral report is presented to the panel along with a written report at the end of the semester. (12 units)

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, students should gain skills in the following areas:

  1. Decomposing, structuring, and formulating solutions to unstructured problems.
  2. Assessing what can be done and delivering a product on time.
  3. Interdisciplinary problem solving: Data collection, analysis, and synthesis, formulation and evaluation of policy recommendations.
  4. Developing professional oral and written communication skills through participation in oral presentations, and preparation of the final written project document.
  5. Developing the ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.

These course objectives are independent of the content and topic, or what specific activities and responsibilities a particular student takes on.

Download the Project Course archive.

Fall 2018 Project Courses

Cybersecurity Resilience
Project Course: 19-452A, 88-452A, 90-719A
Faculty: Baruch Fischhoff, Erica Fuchs
Project Manager: Kristen Allen
Presentation Dates: October 4, 2018 and December 6, 2018
Presentation Place: Baker Hall 129

Microprocessors (chips) are ubiquitous in our daily lives. They control our power grids (delivering electricity), transportation systems (including the latest cars), airplane autopilots, military missile guidance systems, and much more.  Microprocessors can, however, be compromised in ways, in both their software and their hardware, by criminals or military adversaries.  Those compromises could breach the confidentiality of information, reduce their performance, or even get them to do the opposite of what they should.  They can also malfunction for non-malicious reasons, such as design flaws, manufacturing problems, or use in systems that exceed their capabilities.  There are many people trying to keep such compromises from happening.  Our task is to figure out what to do if they fail.  That is, how can people prepare for the possibility that important microprocessors will fail?  That challenge faces all levels of our society, firms, governments, institutions (including universities), and individual households.  Each must make assumptions about the others’ behaviors.  For example, families that purchase back-up generators in case the electrical grid goes down assume that they will still be able to buy needed fuel. 

Sustainability at CMU:  What Does It Mean?  How Do We Get There?
Project Course: 19-452B, 88-452B, 90-719B
Faculty: John Miller, Ed Rubin
Project Manager: Aviva Loew
Presentation Dates: October 9, 2018 and December 4, 2018
Presentation Place: BH 129

The UN World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (1987).  The notion of sustainability can be applied at a variety of levels, ranging from the whole planet down to an individual's activities.  The project will develop an appropriate notion of sustainability for Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), generate the needed metrics and data to track progress toward sustainability, and make useful policy recommendations for ensuring that CMU achieves its sustainability goals.

Faculty: Paul Fischbeck, Deanna Matthews
Project Managers: Sara Schwetschenau, Gerad Freeman

This project will focus on the issues in Allegheny County, and the greater community, created by the presence of lead in the environment. Lead can affect communities through inhalation and consumption. Populations are exposed to environmental lead through lead paint, deposition to soil, and drinking water distributed through lead pipes. Exposure is increased in areas with an aging housing stock and past industrial activity, both prevalent in many neighborhoods in the county. The project will examine questions surrounding the recommendations presented by the Allegheny County Lead Task Force’s December 2017 final report such as: How should the county prioritize the recommendations to reduce impacts of lead most effectively? Which areas of the county present an elevated risk for lead exposure for at-risk populations such children under five and the elderly? What sources and factors are the public aware of which increase their lead exposure? Which prevention or mitigation measures are likely to be successful? Are there any co-benefits to lead reduction strategies, such as removing old, lead-painted windows also reducing heating expenses? And, who should and will pay for the prevention or mitigation measures?

Faculty: Edward Rubin, John Miller
Project Manager: Kenneth Sears

In this project course we will focus on CMU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the potential for reducing those emissions in coming years. Consistent with the Paris Accord, we will consider CMU to be its own nation-state and begin by asking whether, how, and at what cost, CMU could achieve the 26-28% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025 promised by the Obama administration. We will also look at the historical trend in CMU’s GHG emissions since the problem was last studied sixteen years ago to learn whether growth-related increases in emissions have outpaced efforts to reduce our environmental impact. Looking further into the future, we will assess the measures and policies needed to achieve the more substantial emission reductions required by mid-century to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change. Based on our findings, a key product of this project will be a recommendation to the university administration regarding CMU’s role in advancing the goals of the Paris accord on climate change.

Faculty: Baruch Fischhoff, Mitch Small
Project Manager: Logan Warberg

There are over 2.5 million miles of underground pipelines transporting gases and hazardous liquids in the United States.  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the U.S. Department of Transportation sets minimum safety standards for these pipelines, from construction through operation to eventual abandonment.  Most of the standards are focused on engineering specifications and safety performance.  But PHMSA has taken a risk-based approach to regulation that includes risk management and risk communication programs.

In 2002, Congress passed a law requiring pipeline operators to create a “public awareness” program on the use of one-call systems (call before you dig), the hazards from unintended releases, and how the public should respond to these releases.  Congress also authorized PHMSA to adopt standards prescribing the elements of an effective public education program and to develop material for use in the program.  In its regulation, PHMSA identified four specific audiences:  the affected public (i.e., those who live or congregate near pipelines, or are natural gas customers); emergency officials; local public officials; and excavators. 

At the same time, the pipeline industry began to develop a private standard through the American Petroleum Institute:  Recommended Practice (RP) 1162 (attached).  That RP was published in 2003, and was incorporated by reference into the PHMSA regulations in 2005.  The RP contains a process guide for operators and several pages of tables with recommended communication topics, delivery timelines, and media.  PHMSA undertook the first round of audits/inspections of public awareness programs in 2010-2011.

Critics of the programs, including the National Transportation Safety Board, have contended that the programs are ineffective.  The industry largely blames the public for its lack of interest.  In 2013, PHMSA created a Public Awareness Program Working Group, the mission of which was to review pipeline safety public awareness data and information from various sources, identify relevant topical review areas, perform a “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats” (SWOT) analyses of those areas, and issue a report of key findings.  The Pipeline Safety Trust participated in the Working Group, trying from the beginning to focus the conversation on improving public participation.  Unfortunately, the Trust’s efforts were not particularly successful.  The American Petroleum Institute produced a second edition of RP 1162 in 2008.  PHMSA has not incorporated this edition into its regulations.  The API is currently undertaking another update of the RP.  Two PHMSA representatives and a representative from the Trust have agreed to attend the first meeting.

Faculty: Doug Sicker, Marvin Sirbu
Project Manager: Rachel Steratore

This project examined the WEA system and addressed consumer and carrier familiarity, alert phone apps, multilingual alerts, and the geographic incidence of alerts for the FCC and DHS.

Faculty: Paul Fischbeck, Deanna Matthews
Project Manager: Sinnott Murphy

This project investigates PA vehicle emissions testing protocols and results and provides the state with recommendations for future emissions testing and air quality monitoring.
Faculty: John Miller, Edward Rubin
Client: The Public

This project analyzes key issues related to biking in the City of Pittsburgh and provides policy recommendations for biking to become a more important and productive part of the community.

Faculty: Baruch Fischhoff, Jon Peha
Client: The Public

This project assessed the deployment of “smart city” devices on Pittsburgh streetlights, including femtocells, Wi-Fi hotspots, automobile traffic monitors, air quality monitors, and video-cameras for law enforcement.

Faculty: Paulina Jaramillo, John Miller
Client: The Public

This project evaluated the risk of failure of Kariba Dam and its potential impacts on the infrastructure, environment, economies, society and politics.

Instructors: Jon Peha, Ed Rubin
Client: Pittsburgh Police Department

This project examined measureable costs and benefits of police body-worn cameras, public policies that US cities have adopted, and the views of police officers.

Instructors: Baruch Fischhoff, Deanna Matthews
Client: The Public


The project developed guidelines for helping individuals and communities make best use of personal environmental monitors, with case studies focused on monitors for particulate matter and radiation.

Instructors:  Meagan Mauter, Jay Whitacre
Client:  The Public

This project examined the tradeoffs of using different technical and policy approaches to address the ongoing drought in central California.
Instructors: Denise Caruso, Paul Fischbeck
Client:  Public

This project explored the possible applications, impacts, and limitations of an open data portal in Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh [as described in the Open Data Initiative issued by the City of Pittsburgh in 2014].
Instructors:  Denise Caruso, Baruch Fischhoff
Client:  Public

Students developed a general approach to helping health clinics to schedule patients, using interviews, surveys, and modeling.
Instructors:  Jon Peha, Michael Yu
Client:  Public

This project addressed the challenges of providing emergency information to non-English speakers during disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes. It examined the extent to which non-English speakers can receive emergency information in their own language today, the methods available for translation of emergency alerts, the preferences of non-English-speakers, and the strategies local governments throughout the U.S. use to assist non-English speakers during emergencies.
Instructors:  Nichole Argo, Kelly Klima
Client:  City of Pittsburgh
 
Students used engineering, economics, and risk communication skills to conduct a climate adaptation analysis for heat and water hazards in Pittsburgh.
Instructors:  Liz Casman, Deanna Matthews
Client:  Pennsylvania Senate Finances Committee
 
This project analyzed the proposed Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1080, which would impose a state-wide two-cent fee on single use plastic bags.
Instructors:  Michal Goldberg, Jon Peha, Ed Rubin
Client:  The Public
 
This one-semester research project studied local news in the city of Pittsburgh. The project examined the various media that are producing news, including both old and new media, and the local news that they are producing; assessed the local news coverage available, and considered what public and private organizations might do to improve local news in Pittsburgh and perhaps in other cities across the country. The project drew on students' knowledge in diverse areas including information technology, social science, public policy, and quantitative analysis.
Instructors: Baruch Fischhoff, Paulina Jaramillo
Client: The Public
 
Radioactive contamination can come from varied sources, including accidents at nuclear power plants (e.g., Fukushima), terrorist attacks with radioactive dispersion devices (RDDs), industrial processes, coal-fired power plants, and medical equipment.  In the United States, many public and provide organizations are involved in avoiding such contamination. When it happens, government agencies have ultimate authority for dealing with the aftermath, including evacuation, decontamination, and reoccupation. As one part of that effort, in March 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency requested public comment on the draft of Protective Action Guides and Planning Guidance for Radiological Incidents. These Protective Action Guides (PAGs) update ones issued in 1992 and complement guidance from other agencies.
 

Instructors: Elizabeth Casman, Deborah Stine
Client: The Public, Foundations, Business, Industry, and Government Policymakers
 
This project investigated the potential for replacing liquid petroleum based transportation fuels with natural gas in the Pittsburgh region. The vehicles examined were light-duty cars for personal use, taxis, tug and towboats, trains, tractor-trailer trucks, school buses, and transit buses.  The analysis included determining the break even point for switching an existing vehicle type so it could use natural gas as a fuel; developing supply curves to prioritize the conversion of fleets of vehicles considering economic, energy security and environmental benefits to Pittsburgh; and analyzing existing and potential policies.

Download the final report

Instructors: Deanna Matthews, Mike Griffin, Nichole Argo
Client: The Public

Wind energy in the U.S. has seen rapid development over the past decades as States push for increased renewable electricity generation. This project aimed to determine the potential for wind energy as a primary source of renewable energy growth in the U.S. given the current state of opposition to wind power development.
Instructors: Denise Caruso, Michal Goldberg, Ed Rubin
Client: Port of Pittsburgh Commission

This project analyzed the state of locks and dams on waterways of the Pittsburgh region and their value to commerce and economic development in the Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Instructors: Baruch Fischhoff, Jon Peha
Client: PittsburghCONNECTS
 
The project developed methods for evaluating programs seeking to reduce the 'digital divide', which separates communities with and without ready Internet access. The project evaluated digital divide programs in Pittsburgh.

Instructors: Elizabeth Casman, Lorrie Cranor
Client: The Public
 
Students investigated the current and potential use of social media in emergency messaging in the USA through surveys, interviews, experimentation, and literature review.

Read the project report.

Instructors: Paul Fischbeck, Scott Matthews
Client: The Public
 
This project examined the transportation and energy policies in the U.S. based on the study of regional stock of Pennsylvania registered vehicles over 10 years, census data and state-wide surveys.
Instructors: Michele Tumminello, Joel Tarr, Mike Griffin
Client: The Public
 
The project investigated the relationship between regional energy production and regional water quality in southwestern Pennsylvania, past, present and future, emphasizing the current environmental concerns related to shale gas development.
Faculty: Baruch Fischhoff, Deanna Matthews
Client: The Public
 
The US Food and Drug Administration sometimes uses Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) in order to make drugs safer or learn more about their risks. The project examined how consistently REMS are applied, along with how to evaluate and improve their effectiveness.
Instructors: Liz Casman, Lorrie Cranor
Client: The Public
 
In order to understand the opportunities for reducing printing at the Carnegie Mellon Campus, a study was performed investigating (1) the reasons students and staff print (2) the amount of printing taking place, (3) the environmental footprint of electronic alternatives to printing and the use of “green” consumables and (4) incentives and technologies for printing reduction.
Instructors: Paul Fischbeck, Iris Grossmann
Client: The Public
 
The US vehicle fleet has gone through a gradual though significant evolution over the past 20 years such as better fuel economy and lower maintenance cost as well as increased in safety measures, comfort and price, amongst others. How these trends have affected overall safety and environmental impacts is now being discussed. Using data from a variety of sources (e.g., federal, state, industry), this project investigated the significance across multiple variables (e.g., geographic region, type of vehicle, income) for a broad set of metrics (e.g., fatalities per mile, economic value of the fleet, miles per year, gallons per year) to evaluate the impacts.
 
Instructors: Ed Rubin, MicheleTumminello
Client: The Public
 
Accidents in the U.S. energy supply system affect the lives of Americans, our environment, and the economy.  The objectives of this project were to identify key areas where safety improvements are possible, and to recommend ways to reduce the number and severity of accidents in the supply of energy. The report compared accident trends and impacts across all major energy supply industries. The role of public perception and future energy preferences also were investigated, along with an analysis of regulatory effectiveness. Recommendations were presented based on the study findings.
Instructors: Baruch Fischhoff and Iris Grossmann
Client: The Public
 
Proponents of drilling in the Marcellus Shale promise large economic benefits. Opponents question those benefits and worry about social and environmental damages.  Twenty students from the Departments of Engineering and Public Policy and of Social and Decision Sciences examined these claims from the perspective of the expected effects of drilling on different stakeholders.  Three groups of students studied specific aspects of the technology (a) experiences with the Barnett Shale (in Texas) as a predictor of experiences in Pennsylvania; (b) health, safety, and environmental management of the technology; (c) externalities borne by communities and the environment.  Two groups developed decision aids (a) for setting priorities for the inspection of drilling sites and (b) for evaluating the attractiveness of lease contract offered to landowners.