The Undergraduate Honors Program in Environmental Sciences

Learning Goals of the Honors Program

Students Conducting Field Work in StreamThis program is designed to provide Environmental Science students an opportunity to turn their undergraduate research experience into a formal honors thesis.

Honors are in recognition of superior performance in environmental science. This includes coursework, scientific research, and engagement in environmental science co-curricular activities. The program establishes the opportunity for the student to function as a scientist and demonstrate the integration of the student's academic preparation and research skills into a demonstration of the scientific method to contribute to the field of environmental science (in certain cases, the engineering design process may be used). The thesis, the final requirement of honors recognition, must incorporate appropriate literature review and scientific research including appropriate analysis with conclusions.

As part of completing an honors thesis, the student will conduct a results-based independent research project under the tutelage of a Faculty member, write an honors thesis, participate in a seminar course designed for the Honors Program, and communicate their work publicly.

As a member of the Honors Program, students will be able to combine their knowledge from courses with a firsthand understanding of Environmental Science. They will interact one-on-one with a faculty mentor, graduate students, and other undergraduate students. They will gain experience in discussing science with others. The primary learning goal of the program is that students are able to integrate all components of environmental sciences into their knowledge base: basic research and the scientific method, the study of the primary literature, and communication of the knowledge that is gained.

Students who have experience doing independent research are invited to apply to the Honors Program in the spring of their junior year. Applications are due by April 15th.

Requirements of the Honors Program

Interested students should discuss their intention to seek honors recognition with their faculty mentor early in the student's career. The recognition of departmental honors is earned by students for their performance in several fields; therefore, there are few strict cutoffs for each requirement. Each student must apply and be accepted by the program.

  1. Progression towards the major in Environmental Science
  2. Research experience prior to the fourth year (or prior to last two-semesters)
  3. Sufficient academic performance
  4. Demonstrated cocurricular engagement
  5. Application and acceptance into the program
  6. Completion of the research preparation course, BIOL 394
  7. A successfully defended thesis (document and presentation)

Application Process

A completed application is due to the Environmental Science Honors Program 15 April of the calendar year prior to your anticipated graduation year. An application package includes:

  • Application form (attached)
  • Resume or CV (two-page maximum)
  • Transcript (unofficial is acceptable)
  • Project summary that explains the background, proposed activities, and intellectual merit and broader impacts of the project (one-page maximum)

The application deadline was set to ensure that accepted students will have the opportunity to take the required pre-thesis course, BIOL 394, which is offered only in the fall. This course may not be taken concurrently with ENVI 414H. Students should plan to allocate credits for research in both semesters of their fourth year (or last two-semesters).

Note: For more information on intellectual merit and broader impacts, see the National Science Foundation's Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide at


Use this timeline to determine the deadlines and timing for required courses:

Intended Graduation Fall Spring Summer Fall Spring
August BIOL 394 ENVI 390 ENVI 414H
December BIOL 394 ENVI 390 ENVI 390* ENVI 414H
May BIOL 394
ENVI 390

*only for those students who wish to conduct research during the summer for credit. Exceptions may be made if the student is accepted into the Undergraduate Research Program. It is not required for students to conduct research in both the summer and preceding spring; however, it is allowed.

Research Experience Requirements

The research experience requirements must be satisfied by student participation in scientific research activities as defined in the legislation concerning the Department of Health and Human Services, 45 CFR 46.102:

Research means a systematic investigation, including research development, testing, and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Activities which meet this definition constitute research for purposes of this policy, whether or not they are conducted or supported under a program which is considered research for other purposes. For example, some demonstration and service programs may include research activities.

This is typically done through ENVI 390: Undergraduate Research-Environmental, for credit, or the Undergraduate Research Program. In rare circumstances, the student may petition the department to accept work conducted as part of an internship; however, the work must satisfy the definition of scientific research and engage the scientific method. Regardless, the experience must have research as a learning objective (as in ENVI 390) established prior to the commencement of that experience. At least one-credit, or equivalent, must be taken prior to application for the program.

Thesis Research and Thesis Preparation

Research for the thesis must span a minimum of two consecutive semesters but is likely to be a continuation of the student's previous research experience. Most students will choose to complete these required semesters in the fourth year of study. Students must enroll for ENVI 390 in the first semester and ENVI 415H in the second semester.

An outline of the thesis is due to the program on the first Monday of February and the final written document is due the second Monday of April.

The thesis document and presentation are prepared and approved by the faculty mentor before it is submitted for defense before the program. The defense, which will include the presentation, will be scheduled by the student with the department and may be part of several presentations.

*Please note that graduate research through the Environmental Science and Management or Biological Sciences graduate programs may be an expansion of undergraduate honors thesis research but not may not simply be an extension of said research.

Course Descriptions

ENVI 398, 399 BIOL 398, 399. Undergraduate Biology/Environmental Science Research. 1-3 credits. Laboratory research under the direction of a faculty mentor in the Department of Environmental Sciences or Biological Sciences. Prerequisite: Permission of faculty mentor. May be taken more than once.

BIOL 394. Undergraduate Biology/Environmental Science Seminar. 1 credit. Discussion of current issues and scientific literature in Environmental Sciences. The format includes student presentations, faculty seminars, or invited speakers. Prerequisite: BIOL 398 or 399 or equivalent summer experience. May be taken a total of two times for credit.

ENVI 414H. Honors Environmental ScienceThesis. 2 credits. A written honors Environmental Science thesis to be based on research that was conducted under the mentorship of a faculty in the Department of Environmental Sciences. Also includes public presentations (oral and poster) of the thesis research. Prerequisite: 1-4 credits of research (Biol 398, 399, or equivalent summer experience) and permission of a faculty mentor and the director of the honors program.

Past Theses

Roth, Kristen; Chitiyo, Plaxedes (2020), " Regenerative Landscaping: An Urban Garden For Storm Water Management At Duquesne University", Mendeley Data, v1