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Honors Program

Graduate With Distinction - WHY DO AN HONORS PROJECT?

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

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  • Madison standing by her thesis posterboard with her advisor

    Best Honors Thesis Case Study

    Madison Mastrangelo PPS’19 received the Sanford School of Public Policy award for Best Honors Thesis for her honors thesis, No Hit Zones, a policy to prevent corporal punishment. Mastrangelo became passionate about child abuse prevention through an internship at a child abuse treatment and prevention center in New Orleans. She decided to conduct original research on the issue for an honors thesis. Her advisors were Jennifer Lansford, research professor of public policy, and Jeffrey Moe, professor of the practice of global health.


    "My honors thesis represents a culmination of my academic career both at Duke and at Sanford. It also highlights what I love most about Duke: the relationships with incredible professors who go above and beyond to support students,” she said. “I feel so grateful for the mentorship from my thesis advisors. They believed in me even when I didn't and encouraged me to present at a national conference and publish a version of my thesis in an academic journal," she said.

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.

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.

Types of Projects

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.

Sample Topics

  • 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?