November 1st for winter semester and April 1st for summer and fall. What is the Honors College senior thesis or project?

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The Senior Project/Thesis

NOTE: Due by November 1st for winter semester and April 1st for summer and fall.

What is the Honors College senior thesis or project?

How you choose to do the senior thesis or project will have much more to do with your own goals for the future than it does with any requirements of the Honors College. Are you planning to go to graduate school? Then your HNR 499 will probably be a scholarly adventure, completed early and designed to make those selection committees take notice. Are you interested in community service? Your HNR 499 might very well find you developing a project for a non- profit organization. Are you an artist? We might be watching a screening of your animated film in the NMR great room one day or listening to your original score. Plan to be in the health professions? You could devise a public health campaign or create a website that offers resources for those facing a healthcare issue.

A senior thesis or project is a proven way to distinguish yourself; it can open doors to your future. The HNR 499 provides honors students with opportunities you might not otherwise have in the major.  If your major already requires a significant original research or creative project, the honors credits can give you time in your class schedule to do something even more substantial with the major requirement.  Think about the HNR 499 credits not as a requirement to dispatch, but as an opportunity

* to study an area of interest in a sustained and in-depth exploration;

* to learn more about your chosen field;

* to make stronger connections to professionals in the field (including, but not limited to, the faculty mentor in the major);

* to hone research, writing, and critical thinking skills;

* to create a tangible, substantive accomplishment you can feel proud about and can discuss in job interviews, letters of application, and graduate school applications;

*provide future employers or educators with permanent online access to your scholarship;

*to do work which will make you more competitive for grants, fellowships, graduate school, or employment.

Particularly if your future plans will have you competing for a choice job, a few positions in a graduate program, or limited fellowship funding, you need to do more to distinguish yourself than just get good grades in your courses and score well on exams such as the GRE, MCAT, or LSAT. You can gain a leg up on the competition if you plan your project early, do impressive work, and end your undergraduate career with a tangible accomplishment you and your letter of reference writers can talk about in detail.

The key here is to begin to think early about how you can design such a project to open doors to your future.  You might, for example, use the HNR 499 credits in combination with an independent study, capstone project, internship, or study abroad opportunity in your major, or your honors credits may grow out of work you have done in an honors course. The first place to begin is as a freshman and sophomore discovering what you have a passion for and what you want to know more about.

What is a Thesis? What is a Project?

If you are in the performing or fine arts, you are most likely to choose to do a project, such as composing a piece of music, creating a computer animation, scoring a short film, painting a landscape, or mounting a photography exhibition. If you are in the sciences, you may find yourself conducting lab research and writing a report of your work. If you are in marketing or public relations, you may be creating a project for business clients. If you will be a teacher, you may want to create an extensive unit plan (a project) or do research and writing on an issue in your field (a thesis), which may result in a publication. If you are in a discipline such as English, history, modern languages, classics, philosophy, art history or musicology, you may want to undertake research in a special collection or archive or focus on a text or theme about which you do research and write.

Whether you do a project or thesis is completely up to you.  Find something you can get excited about working on and use your imagination in developing your plan—the sky is the limit!

Finding a Faculty Mentor and Choosing a Topic

The best advice anyone can give you is to talk with your professors, inside and outside of class. Don’t be the passive student who sits in the back of the class and says little. Don’t assume that professors are too busy to talk outside of class or aren’t interested in what you have to say. In fact, most faculty think chatting with students is the most enjoyable part of the job! Whenever you take a course, find the time to talk with your professor about more than what might be on an exam or areas where you may need some help. Start conversations and ask questions about ideas and issues that have come up in the course, topics that interest you or that you are curious to know more about.  Aside from the intangible benefits of good conversation about the world and getting to know others better, there is at least one pragmatic reason to follow this advice. Eventually, you will probably need at least three faculty members who know you well enough to write letters of reference for you. To get great letters of reference, you must make sure you have done more than just occupy a seat in class and pass exams.  Remember that a professor may have a couple hundred students or more in a year. Make yourself known (in a positive way of course!). Be actively involved . . . be original . . . be you, and you will be memorable!

If the course is in your major, talk with the professor about research in areas that interest you. Use writing assignments in the class to learn more about what interests you and what others have written about these topics. Let the professor know you are thinking about a research topic for the honors senior thesis/project looming in your future, and you are interested in hearing more about what the professor thinks would be a good area to pursue. Ask your professors about their own areas of specialty, the work they have done in their disciplines. Well before the senior project, ask faculty in the major what possibilities exist in your field for undergraduate research, internships, and joint research with faculty. You need to begin building these relationships with faculty and exploring your own interests very early on (in fact, begin as a freshman).

To find a directory of faculty on campus listed by areas of interest/expertise, consult This directory is not a complete listing of faculty and their interests, but would work as a starting point.  Another starting point is the Honors faculty who have specialties in your major, as well as faculty in your major department.

If you plan to go to graduate school, it is essential that you seek help early.  You will need to know what graduate school is like, what differences there are among programs, what the expectations are, what types of funding are possible, what the future job prospects are, and what is required to gain admission. Keep your eyes open for a special professor in your field, a faculty member who can be your mentor. Ideally, this would be someone with whom you have a rapport, someone you respect, an individual who cares about students, a professor who is hard-working and conscientious, and someone who knows her/his specialty well. You will be helped tremendously by a mentor who can introduce you to the intricacies of your profession and who can use her/his professional ties beyond Grand Valley, writing letters and making calls on your behalf.

By the way, do not assume you cannot go to graduate school until you have worked for a few years. Frequently, you can get tuition waivers and stipends for teaching assistantships or fellowship support. In some cases, working a few years after the bachelor’s degree may hurt your cause more than it helps you. Talk to your major advisor and other faculty about these issues early in your undergraduate career.

Doing Research to Choose a Topic

You may do research before and after you decide on a topic. Often, by perusing current scholarship, you begin to think of ideas of your own.  Perhaps you don’t agree with an article’s conclusion? Maybe you see another way of looking at the same evidence? Does an article give you a new way of thinking about a related but different topic? Can the author’s approach or methodology be applied to another topic or subject area? Is there a little known or overlooked area in the research just waiting for your contribution?

From your freshman year in the Honors College, your faculty have asked you to do more than just repeat the ideas and work of others.  You have been required to develop your analytical and critical thinking skills, apply those skills to others’ interpretations and analyses, and ultimately, to express your own ideas. The honors thesis is another step in that direction.  For a successful future in any career, you need to be able to develop your own ideas.  Most often, though, we form our own ideas only when we have a thorough understanding of an issue or situation, viewing it from every perspective. As a bright and talented person, you have much of value to say and do. Design an honors thesis or project that shows your thorough understanding of your topic, while at the same time reflecting you and your own ideas.

Every discipline has its own reference works which record the scholarly research in the field. For example, in English, the MLA Bibliography lists all articles about literature and language published in scholarly journals. If you are in psychology, you will want to use the PsycInfo database. For a list of appropriate resources for your topic go to This page has a list of guides created for the different subjects and majors at GVSU. In the old days, when many of your professors were students, we would look for articles about our subjects by thumbing through these enormous volumes, one for each year’s published articles. All of these indexes are available as computer databases, so you just enter a topic or author and all years are searched electronically. By the way, did you know that you can also find out what your professors have published by entering the name into the author search function in the appropriate database? You can access these databases through the library homepage. Click on the Databases link on the left side of the screen and select the database you want from the alphabetical list. You will want to contact a librarian to help you with your research for your senior project or thesis. Use the subject list [] to find the librarian for your subject area. The librarians at GVSU are expert researchers and they will save you a lot of time and trouble!

Doing Work Related to GVSU and Community Resources

As a regional state university, Grand Valley has a number of institutes and programs which offer services and information to the community, as well as ties to well-established institutions in Grand Rapids. Depending on your project, you may want to talk to a faculty member about whether your work might fit in one of these areas:

Alert Labs
Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute
The Amaranthys Literary Magazine
Autism Center
Art Galleries at Allendale and DeVos
Center for Entrepreneurship
Children’s Center
Curriculum Resource Center
Family Owned Business Institute
The Grand Valley University Press
Johnson Center for Philanthropy
Leadership and Volunteer Center
Professional Development Partnership (training for businesses)
Regional Math and Science Center
The Shakespeare Festival (see Prof. R. Ellis)
Small Business Development Center
Grand Valley Theatre (Prof. K. Libman)
University Promotions Office
Van Andel Global Trade Center
Van Andel Institute
Volunteer GVSU & Excellence in Leadership
West Michigan Public Broadcasting
Women and Gender Studies
Writing Center
Zumberge Library Special Collections and GVSU Archives

A number of departments have annual events for which you might be able to help, if you have an idea about how you can contribute:  these include the Latin American Studies Festival, the Shakespeare Festival, the Great Lakes History Conference, the Women and Gender Studies Festival, the Science Olympiad, the Poetry Festival.  I could imagine an HNR 499 that would have an honors student arranging an appropriate exhibit, panel discussion, or film program, performing a short play or dramatic reading, creating an informative website.

You can learn more about these programs and offices by talking with faculty and using the search function on GVSU’s main web page.

Remember, too, that Grand Rapids has a number of excellent institutions where you could inquire about an HNR 499 doing research or connected to some sort of volunteer work or internship. These include, but are not limited to,

Grand Rapids Opera
Grand Rapids Symphony
Grand Rapids Public Museum
Grand Rapids Art Museum
The Grand Rapids Press
Ford Museum
Blanford Nature Center
Meijer Gardens
Civic Theatre
Circle Theatre
The Community Media Center
The Urban Institute for Contempory Arts
The Grand Rapids Art Museum
The Grand Rapids Historian’s Office
The Women’s History Council of Grand Rapids
The Grand Rapids Griffins
The Whitecaps

Talk with a faculty member first to devise a plan before contacting one of these organizations.

If you would like to work with primary source documents such as old newspapers, magazines, letters, diaries, minutes of meetings, etc. you can start with resources available at GVSU libraries, but also consider local archives such as those found in the Grand Rapids Public Library, your hometown library, museums and historical societies, clubs and service organizations, local churches, area businesses, groups organized around special hobbies, interests, or collections, or you may even find something exciting right in your own family.  Editing a diary, creating bibliographies and annotated finding guides, editing a collection of letters, are all activities that let you use your analytical, research, and writing skills while at the same time performing an important public and scholarly service by making these documents more readily available or by helping others to understand the documents in their historical context.

Study Abroad and the HNR 499

You may want to consider connecting your HNR 499 to study abroad. For example, if you are going to be a teacher, you might compare some aspect of education in the U.S. and in the country you visit. If you are in communications, you might look at advertising and cultural difference. Are you in business? Are there any cultural differences that affect how business gets done?

Wondering how you can afford study abroad?  Often your financial aid will pay for it. In addition, the Barbara H. Padnos International Scholars program has awarded twenty students more than $90,000 in the last two years.  Many of the students who won Padnos awards have been in Honors. Anyone can apply, regardless of major, although preference is given to those in the Arts and Humanities. If you are not in an Arts and Humanities major, be prepared to explain how your intended program of study abroad will be enriched by exposure to the Arts and Humanities.

Begin to prepare your application in the fall for a deadline in early February. For more information on international study, see    For more information on the Padnos Scholarships, see

Outside sources also fund study abroad.  The Rotary organization, for example, offers up to $23,000 for Ambassadorial Scholarships. Fellowships for shorter and longer terms are available. Application deadlines vary with local club so inquire early in the fall for travel the following school year. To learn more, see

The University of Minnesota maintains an extensive database of international study abroad fellowships.  You can choose your subject area, as well as region of the world, and see what is available at


Funding for Research

The Honors College has a modest budget to help defray some of the costs of undergraduate research. If you need money for books, photocopying fees, or equipment, please see the Honors Director, Dr. Chamberlain.

In addition, Grand Valley students interested in pursuing a Ph.D., who are first generation to college, or are members of underrepresented groups in higher education, are eligible to apply for the Ronald E. McNair Fellowship. You apply in your sophomore year to start the program your first summer as a junior. McNair fellows learn about graduate education, visit graduate schools, and hone their research, writing, and interviewing skills by working with a faculty mentor. Along with the skills you gain, you receive a stipend for your summer research ($2800).  For more information, see
and talk with a faculty member in honors.

Your own department may also offer work study or small stipends for research with faculty members. See this listing of all GVSU scholarships.

Human Subjects Review

Your project or thesis may involve questioning or surveying others. Federal guidelines exist to protect human subjects in research or experimentation. Any time your work involves human subjects, you must get clearance for your project through a special Grand Valley office, Research and Development, located in 201 Lake Michigan Hall.  Your faculty mentor can offer more advice as it pertains to your particular project. See also the Human Subjects Review site.

Statistics Consultants

Will some sort of survey or statistical analysis be a part of your project?  If so, there is help for you right on campus.  To learn more, consult statisticsconsult.html

Writing Resources

Need a little help polishing your prose?  Check out these detailed handouts on all aspects of writing at

Before you begin your research, if you will quote or paraphrase others’ work, review the details of citing sources properly. Although the citation formats differ from discipline to discipline, the basics are the same. You must acknowledge in the text of an essay, any ideas, quotations, or paraphrased words you found elsewhere. Furthermore, the reader of your essay must be able to see exactly what came from where (in other words, do not just append a bibliography; cite sources when they appear in your essay).

For the basics and links to major citation styles, see this handout: or use this link GVSU has a program that is free to all students called RefWorks. RefWorks will save all your citations for you and even format your paper and your reference page! For more information check out this page or contact a librarian. You may also want to try an online program created by a Calvin computer science student, Knight Cite. For more on discipline-specific citation format, consult your faculty advisor.

Are you hoping to use music, images, text from the past? You are in the clear if the work was created before 1923. After that, things get complicated. If a primary text was published before 1923, but your version is a later translation, or has newer annotations or textual notes, these may still be in copyright.  Learn more about when works pass into the public domain, by visiting this website:

Sharing your work with others

Now that you have created your magnum opus, or are well on the way to finishing it, you may want to share what you have learned with others. There are a number of venues for doing so.

Your completed projects will be submitted to This is an online collection of scholarship at GVSU. Items in this collection will be permanently preserved and made available for viewing and download by the GVSU community (students, faculty and staff) or, at your request, made available to those outside the GVSU community over the Internet. You will choose the level of access to your project when you submit your project proposal when you submit your project proposal. (Note: You have the option of changing the level of access at a later date should you reconsider your initial decision.) When a piece of scholarship (project, thesis, article, etc) is made freely available to everyone over the Internet, it is called open access. All items that are made open access will have a stable (i.e. permanent) URL that you can give to others to direct them to your work.

In addition conferences are a great way to communicate your own ideas and to learn from others. Particularly, if you plan to go to graduate school, try to present your material at a conference. Such presentations are invaluable experience for everyone, and essential experience for those who plan to continue their education beyond the bachelor’s level.

You might ask your faculty mentor if your work would be appropriate for presentation at a conference she/he usually attends. If you have been doing joint research with your mentor, you might be able to jointly present your work.  Another route is to look for opportunities specifically designed for undergraduate research. To find more information in your field, check the websites for allied professional organizations and societies. The University of Waterloo has generously listed by subject websites for 2542 scholarly societies at

You can also check their “Call for Papers” arranged by subject at


If you are a creative or non fiction writer, definitely purchase The Writer’s Market (each volume covers a genre or type of publication, and lists all particulars about publishing possibilities). Never publish anywhere that asks you to pay a fee or publishes your work in exchange for a purchase. For more on the Writer’s Market, see

At Grand Valley we have an annual scholarly conference for students from all disciplines. The deadline for proposals is in early February, and the conference takes place in early April. For more information, see

Grand Valley departments also sponsor conferences where you might be able to present your work, such as the Shakespeare Festival, The Latin American Studies Festival, the Women and Gender Studies Festival, the Great Lakes History Conference, and the Poetry Festival.

In the area, public libraries and local organizations host speakers. If your research is in an area of their interest or relates to a holiday or commemorative date or month, such groups may be happy for a speaker. For instance, if you have done work on an Irish topic, a library on St. Patrick’s Day or the Irish-American Society any day would probably be a likely venue. The month of March is popular all over for talks on women’s studies issues.

If you are in the sciences, look into the Council on Undergraduate Research. Their mission is “to support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship,” and this national organization sponsors an annual conference where students can present, competitive student poster sessions held on Capitol Hill as well as summer student fellowships. See

Grand Valley’s Honors College is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). This organization has a national conference every year where students are encouraged to present their work. See

You can ask your faculty mentor about regular publications in your field. As you did your research, you probably got a good sense of the quality and scope of work included, as well as the tone of the writing. Undergraduate journals are another option to share your work with others; among this list you will find journals that publish scholarly as well as creative work:

The Caltech Journal (all disciplines)

The UCLA Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy

STOA The International Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Undergraduate Math Journal

Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research (psychology)

Agora:  An Online Undergraduate Journal of the Humanities

Journal of Undergraduate Nursing Scholarship

The American Undergraduate Journal of Politics and Government

Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences

Journal of Young Investigators (very snazzy, peer reviewed, sciences)

The Journal of Undergraduate Chemistry Research

The Oakland Review (literature and the arts)

The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution


This list of undergraduate journals is a mere sampling of what is out there. Those listed accept submissions from outside their home universities; many others I did not include were started to showcase their own students’ work (such as the University of Michigan’s Journal of History). In most cases the journals were started by undergraduates just like you, enlisting faculty to help review and select manuscripts submitted. With the internet, e-journals can be “published” at little cost, and quality journals enjoy a wide audience.

At any rate, one thing such a list makes clear, if you want to be competitive beyond Grand Valley, look at what many of your peers are doing, devise a plan to work at that level as well, and enlist your faculty to help you.  If you aren’t interested in gaining experience for jobs, fellowships, or graduate school, try extending yourself beyond the mere requirements just for the fun of it (fun is ok too!).

How many credits of HNR 499 should I schedule?

You may sign up for 1-4 credits, and you may elect to take credits over one semester or a whole year.  You may also combine your HNR 499 credits with credits in your major, if your advisor agrees the scope of the project warrants it.  Working on your project over a longer time period gives you the opportunity to do an excellent job (anything worthwhile doing requires an investment of time and effort).

To determine the minimum amount of work required to earn 1 credit, consider that each credit of a course meets for close to an hour a week. For each hour you spend working in class, you probably should be spending about another 2 hours of work outside of class (for 3 credits that means you would be spending roughly 9 hours a week on your project; 3 hours for one credit). Of course, if you really get excited about your work on the project, you will undoubtedly spend even more time than these minimums suggest.

In some circumstances, you may not want to sign up for the number of credits that accurately reflect the amount of work you are doing. For example, if signing up for 3 credits would mean you are paying more for tuition, save your money and sign up for fewer credits. There are no rules limiting how much time you can spend on as little as one credit!  Ordinarily you will not want to sign up for HNR 499 credits in the spring/summer since you pay by the credit then. Just because you are not officially enrolled in HNR 499 in the summer does not mean you can’t use the summer to plan the project or to work on it (in fact, if your project is a major undertaking, or if you plan to graduate in December, planning to work on the HNR 499 in the summer is a wise move). Your faculty mentor may be off doing her/his own research in the summer, so you may not have immediate feedback, but then you will have plenty to talk about early in the fall.


My major requires a significant research project in the capstone or an internship, should I still complete an HNR 499?

In most cases you can delineate a specific portion of the research project in the major that will be the honors project.

Who sets expectations and evaluates my work?

You and your faculty advisor will work out the terms of your agreement. You will want a clear understanding of what your advisor expects you to do to earn an A. Even if the advisor does not require it, set out a schedule of parts of the project you will present to the advisor throughout the semester. Try to divide your project into stages, manageable chunks that will leave you feeling progress in steps.  If you always look at the project only in its entirety, you may begin to think it is an overwhelming and huge task. Such thoughts invariably lead to procrastination and less than the best result. You will want to write out any details you and your mentor outline, such as the number of meetings you will have to discuss your work, when reports or drafts will be due, exactly what will be required at each stage, when the final product will be due and in what form it will be.  At the end of the semester, your advisor will submit the grade and a digital copy of your completed project to the Honors Office.


Are there any other requirements?

Before you sign up for HNR 499 credits, submit the proposal form  no later than the deadline (April 1st for fall enrollment; November 1st for winter enrollment). When your proposal is approved, you will receive an email notifying you that the proposal has been approved and you may pick up a signed HNR 499 permit in the Honors office. You should take the permit with you to the main floor of the Student Services Building, where you can add the credits you requested.

You must file a digital copy of your completed thesis or project with the Honors College office through your faculty advisor. Your completed project with then become part of the ScholarWorks@GVSU collection. If your work is an arts project, or something else not well represented entirely in a word document or pdf file, you will to submit either photographs, video tapes/DVD’s, or computer disks.


It may be helpful for you to look at a checklist outlining the ideal senior project process. You will notice that it starts early in your time at GVSU. If you are planning to go to graduate school and want to write about your thesis or project in application essays, you need to be on an even more accelerated schedule.

Checklist for those going to graduate school.
Checklist for a more leisurely pace.

What Senior Theses/Projects Have Others Done?

It might help you to see what others have done recently. Here are a few examples from a wide range of disciplines:

Ben Hope (Marketing, 2001) developed a marketing plan for Michigan wineries, demonstrating what they needed to do in order to position their wines in ways the New York wineries have done.  Ben now works in marketing for the Outward Bound program in Costa Rica.

Melissa Bazuin (English, 2002) took a graduate seminar on grant-writing, interviewed others who have successfully won grants, identified grant possibilities and developed her own plan for applying for grants. Her work culminated in winning a grant for the Allendale Public Library where she works as Associate Director. Melissa was accepted by all three graduate programs to which she applied:  University of Michigan, University of Illinois, and Indiana University (she is heading to Indiana).

Erin Davidson (Film and Video, 2002) created an animated cartoon with a friend, working over two semesters. Erin is headed to an art school in San Francisco.

This senior thesis guide was prepared by Dr. S. Swartzlander (Honors and English). If you have any questions, please drop by 120 Niemeyer.


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