Graduating with Thesis Honors

Students at the University of Colorado may graduate with Thesis Honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude) through either the General Honors Program or their department. Thesis Honors is awarded to students with high GPAs (above a 3.3) who complete an independent project and defend it. Students interested in participating in the General Honors Program should visit the CU Honors Program website.

Thesis Departmental Honors in ENVD

Students wishing to pursue Thesis Honors through ENVD apply in their junior year. Students with an overall GPA of 3.3 or higher propose a project to work on in their senior year of study, under the guidance of a three-person thesis committee. Accepted students take an advanced research methods class in the fall of their senior year (ENVD 4972). The following spring, they take three independent study honors thesis writing credits (ENVD 4979) under the guidance of their thesis committee chair. Students defend their thesis to a committee of three faculty (their thesis committee chair, the honors council representative, and a faculty member from outside the department) in March or April, and honors are awarded by full Honors Committee in the semester the student graduates. Specific deadlines can be found on the CU Honors Program Graduation page.

Thesis Honors theses present work that is student directed and well beyond the requirements for existing classwork. Thesis Honors projects in the Environmental Design Program fall into two major categories, research and design: 

  • Research projects present a heretofore unanswered question and work to answer it, relying on any number of data or types of evidence. The product is a paper, the length of which is determined by the topic in conversation with your chair.
  • Design projects present a problem and propose a solution to that problem. The product is a design or product, presented with a critical introduction. Design theses go beyond designing a building to propose a new response to a problem identified by the student.

Application Process

Students interested in conducting an honors thesis in ENVD should contact the honors council representative for further information.

You should have a topic in mind, and some faculty members who you might like to work with. For more information about faculty members’ research interests, please visit the ENVD faculty page.

Applications for the program are due in the ENVD main office by noon on March 15 of the student’s junior year. 

We also have an early admission deadline of December 15—we recommend that students who are going abroad in the spring semester of their Junior year apply by the early admission deadline so their honors spot is secured before they go abroad.

You can pick up an ENVD honors application in the ENVD front office or download one here:

ENVD Honors Application

Please contact Georgia Lindsay, Honors Council Representative, with any questions.

Do I have to know my committee chair before I apply?

The honors application is a competitive process. You do not need to have spoken with the faculty member you would like to work with, although doing so can give you an edge over applicants who have not. Faculty members will select the most promising projects to advise, and if you have already met with and explained your project, he or she might be more likely to select your project.

Can I read previous honors theses?

Past ENVD Honors Theses

The honors council has all previous honors theses archived. The most recent ones are available online at CU Scholar. Honors theses before 2010 are housed in the University Archives.

Where can I get ideas for an honors project?

A good place to start is by talking to faculty whose classes you enjoyed or looking through old honors projects. In addition, some faculty have ongoing projects that you might be able to work on a piece of.
The Community Engagement, Design and Research Resource Center (CEDAR) has connected students to community projects for internships and independent study and serves as a resource to facilitate connections to community partners for honors theses.  Examples of past projects include:
·         the design of a traveling exhibit “Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins”
·         participatory park planning for the City of Lafayette
·         participatory permaculture design with Mackintosh Academy
·         evaluating Growing Up Boulder through retrospective film-making
·         generating design ideas for child-friendly, affordable, green multi-family housing in Boulder
·         intergenerational park and playground design for Burke Park and Horizons K-8 Charter School
·         Development and installation of a PhotoVoice exhibit with the Youth Services Initiative
·         Observational Research about Children’s Environments that Foster Connections to Nature
Please contact Tori Derr for more information.
Honors Thesis Topic on Open Space Land Conservation and Use
Several opportunities exist for honors theses related to open space conservation. These topics would be supported by ENVD and other CU faculty as well as local open space departments. Topics include research on balancing between recreational use and ecological integrity and research into the history of the open space programs (this would be a multi-media project). Please contact Stacey Schulte for more information.
Local History focusing on Jim Leach and Neighborhood Design
A guest speaker to ENVD in 2015-16 will be Jim Leach of Boulder
Jim has been  national leader in improving neighborhood design since the 1960s.  He is most famous for his many cohousing developments including senior cohousing.  His work has been written about in the New York Times, the Pocket Neighborhood Book, the Senior Cohousing Handbook, and many other publications.
If a student is interested in researching cohousing, sustainable neighborhood design, design for community, and designing communities to support different stages of life such as children or aging, this could be a great research topic.  What is needed is a literature overview of cohousing, pocket neighborhoods, design for community and sustainability, and then writing a history of the work of Jim Leach over 50 years, and critically reflecting on lessons learned and impact of his body of work. The research would be supervised by Michael Tavel and Louise Chawla.  It could result in a publication – book, pamphlet, or article.  It will result in research paper, possibly a thesis, and an small exhibition of annotated images of his work.  It will involve scanning images from Jim Leach’s personal slid collection, and working directly with Jim Leach to understand the story behind his work.