Undergraduate Honors Program
Honors in Geography is reserved for students who demonstrate a level of scholarship and independent study that goes well beyond the standard coursework for the major. To receive Honors, students must complete a year-long independent research project, which culminates in a written thesis and public presentation. Honors students must also take additional advanced courses in the major and maintain a GPA of 3.3 or higher in Geography courses. Students interested in obtaining Honors in Geography should begin planning in their junior year, and conduct their independent study during their senior year.
Note that Honors in the Major (in this case, Geography or Cartography/GIS) is distinct from Honors in the Liberal Arts, which is awarded and administered by College of Letters and Science. Students receiving both Honors in the Major and Honors in the Liberal Arts are awarded a Comprehensive Honors degree upon graduation, the highest degree obtainable from the College of Letters and Science. Read more about the L&S Honors Program.
For more information about the Geography Honors Program:
For further questions (or to get started with your honors planning), contact an Undergraduate Program Advisor.
You can also access and read full UW Geography Senior Honors Theses through Minds@UW. Additional copies of theses are available in paper form at the UW-Madison Geography Library.
Sam Greene – Influence of Land Use Change on Grant River Hydrology, Grant County, Wisconsin
Sam highly endorses the Honors Program. She was looking for ways to do research as an undergraduate and discovered the program was a great way to accomplish this goal. Sam gained the experience of writing both a proposal and a thesis, in a way a trial run for future graduate degree requirements. She says she also had more interaction with her faculty advisor through the Honors Program. This taught her how to approach professors with productive questions, as well as how to "navigate those kinds of relationships."
Sam gained a lot through doing research and writing the Honors Thesis. She recollects that "when you're finishing writing your thesis, fifty million other questions come up that you wish you could study and research and write more about."
She recommends with 100% enthusiasm that undergraduates do the Honors Program. While not an overwhelming time commitment, the benefits of the program are immense, especially in terms of gaining research experience. Sam analyzed maps and collected field data from NRCS for her research. You can read her thesis, titled "Influence of Land Use Change on Grant River Hydrology, Grant County, Wisconsin."
If she would do anything differently a second time, Sam says she would "try to finish my thesis the first semester of my senior year soI could see all the questions I still wanted to answer and then expand my thesis the second semester."
Travis Tennessen – From Prairie to Plow and Back?: Landscape Change in the Upper Mineral Point Branch Watershed, Iowa County, Wisconsin
"When I decided to major in geography, I had no plans to be involved in the honors program. I was a good student, but the idea of doing an honors thesis was simply not on my radar. I was lucky to be encouraged down that path, and now see the honors program as a vital opportunity for intellectual growth, creating new academic and professional relationships and skills, and building confidence for all geography majors.
Professor Jim Knox deserves much of the credit for my participation in the honors program. I started working in his geomorphology lab during the fall of my sophomore year. I learned lab procedures and data analysis techniques from Professor Knox and from his graduate students, and got to help select field sites on the Mississippi River floodplain, analyze sediment samples, and figure out what our data meant. Witnessing and participating in the research process gave me the confidence and inspiration to enroll in the honors program.
The sense of accomplishment from designing and completing an independent research project is only one of the benefits of being a geography honors student. In Geography 766, I got to work alongside new graduate students as we figured out just exactly what it was we were going to research and wrote our proposals. In the seminar I participated in, I was given a taste of the experiences and opportunities I would have if I chose to go to graduate school, and got practice contributing to group discussions in a professional setting. The honors program helped lead me to graduate school in geography, but whatever career path you choose you will benefit from the experiences you've had working independently and creatively alongside experts and professional geographers. The honors program is one of the best ways to have those experiences.
My honors project also allowed me to use the skills I'd gained in college to learn about a place I cared deeply about–the small watershed where I grew up in southwestern Wisconsin. I studied its streams, soils, and land use history, and through that process felt myself fully becoming a geographer. I had to think carefully about how all the different components of the landscape functioned together and changed through time, and weave together knowledge from many different classes, books, and discussions. My honors thesis is one of my most proud accomplishments, not just because it helped me win academic distinction, but because it is one of the best expressions of my care for and curiosity about the Earth.
- Be Confident — the honors program is for you (not for some else who knew they would be an honors student in geography the day they were born, is smarter than you, or is better prepared). Every UW-Madison student is capable of completing a meaningful honors project–it just takes focus and planning.
- Form Relationships — it's much easier to figure out an honors project you might do if you know a professor and her/his research well, and that professor knows you and what you are passionate about. Go to office hours, ask good questions, be an active learner and thinker.
- Don't Delay — you should make a commitment to do the honors project at least one year before you plan to graduate. Geography 766 is only offered in the spring, so plan accordingly.
- Work Hard — The honors program is a significant, multi-semester commitment that requires self-discipline. Like most of life, you will get out of it what you put into it.