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Honors Program

Honors Program

Graduation With Distinction or WHY DO AN HONORS PROJECT?

"This was undoubtedly the most rewarding academic experience I've had at Duke."—Dan Pellegrino '14

When the Public Policy department asked its alumni what they valued most about their education at Duke, those who had done honors projects often ranked that experience as the most satisfying part of their college education. There are many reasons to engage in an honors project: a desire to explore a policy research question in depth; an interest in determining whether academic research might be a potential career path; or the rewards of working closely with an expert in a particular policy field.

"I am so glad that I did this. There are things that I have learned from this process that one can only learn by doing. It was an amazing way to tie all of my undergraduate interests (Public Policy, Economics, and Health Care/Biology) together."—Kyra Socolof PPS'14

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  • Jessica Van Meir at graduation with Professor Deondra Rose

    Sex Work and the Politics of Space

    While many studies examine how different legal approaches to prostitution affect sex workers’ living and working conditions, few studies analyze how sex workers’ physical workspaces and the policies regulating these spaces influence sex work conditions. Jessica Van Meir interviewed 109 current and former sex workers in Argentina and Ecuador for her project which compared how sex workers experienced and responded to government regulation of prostitution. Van Meir received the award for best thesis at her 2017 graduation. Her thesis was also published in an academic journal prior to graduation. Van Meir is aiming for a career in diplomacy with the U.S. State Department to advance human rights internationally.

For many students, the honors project offers a welcome intellectual challenge. The combination of creativity and sustained effort required for a successful project can yield a strong sense of accomplishment. Down the road, graduate schools and employers see the completion of an honors project as a signal that a student sought the chance to produce excellent work. What students will often take away from the experience, in addition to recommendations and accolades, is a sense of self-awareness and knowledge of what they are capable of producing.

Sample Honors Theses

Students complete honors projects in a variety of topic areas using diverse methodologies. Some projects produce essays that resemble academic journal articles. Others produce research monographs that require students to use the skills and perspectives taught in the public policy major—economics, ethics, political analysis, statistics, decision analysis and historical analysis—to delineate the dimensions of a policy problem, identify alternative policy options and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. These projects are akin to the scholarly research published by the Brookings Institution or American Enterprise Institute.

  • The Effectiveness of YouTube Videos as a Government Communications Tool
  • Analyzing the Development of Social Capital in the Slums of Bangalore
  • Paying College Athletes: An Analysis of Proposed Reforms for the Collegiate Athletic Model
  • Surviving the State: A Case Study Analysis of the Employment Relationship in Contemporary Domestic Work
  • "To be Part of Somethin": The Ku Klux Klan and Its Appeal to Working Class North Carolinians During the 1960s 
  • The Skinny on the Skimm: How Does the Summarized News Format Affect College Student Recall of News?

Sample Project

Lauren Forman scoured the language of the NYPD for her honors thesis.

What would we see, she wondered, if we looked very closely at the public and private language of the New York Police Department versus the language of people protesting police action?

As a part of her project, she scrutinized public documents from the police including press releases and press conference transcripts. And then she added an analysis of language used by protesters. Language used on both sides, Forman says, matters profoundly.

Best in Class

Larence poses with award

Christie Lawrence was awarded best honored thesis of the 2016 class. Lawrence, who minored in Turkish and political science, wrote about "U.S.-Turkish Relations: Re-Situating the 'Kurdish Question'." She conducted interviews in Turkey and the United States to help craft policy recommendations on the issue.