CEGU

Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

BA Thesis / BA Capstone

The Environmental and Urban Studies (ENST) major is only available to students who have already declared as of Spring 2023. All new major declarations will be in Environment, Geography and Urbanization (CEGU)

All students majoring in ENST will complete either a BA Thesis or BA Capstone in their 4th year. Either option will provide students with a rigorous application of concepts, theories and methods taught throughout the major program. The two alternatives, while distinct in scope and approach, are intended as a culmination of environmental and urban studies and preparation for future academic, career and life endeavors.

The BA Thesis is required for any student pursuing honors in the major, while all other students must complete either the BA Thesis or BA Capstone.

For information about events connected to the Thesis and Capstone projects in the ENST major, please see the student events page or take a look at the recording↗ or slides↗ from our Winter 2023 info session.

BA Thesis

The BA thesis gives students a valuable opportunity to conduct extended research, writing, and analysis on a topic of particular significance to them. Frequently, undergraduates who write and reason well are nevertheless unaccustomed to directing their own academic inquiry from within by formulating and conducting a research project from start to finish. The Program therefore offers significant guidance and support from faculty and preceptors in these independent projects. For this purpose, students work alongside expert advisors from across the University, receive mentorship from Program faculty, and participate in a two-quarter BA Colloquium course sequence in their 4th year.

Any student majoring in ENST may choose to complete a thesis, but is required by those pursuing honors in the major. The thesis is an extended piece of research, conducted independently by the student under advisement by a UChicago faculty member. While a long research paper (40-60 pages) is the traditional approach to the thesis, other formats involving alternative media or design will be considered if accompanied by a written text and are approved at the proposal stage by the CEGU faculty. Students wishing to complete a BA Thesis must submit a BA Thesis application in Spring quarter of their 3rd year. If approved, students will be notified with information on next steps.

For questions about the BA Thesis, please contact CEGU BA Thesis Coordinator, Professor Kindell.

Thesis Application and Timeline

Third Year, Autumn Quarter:

  • Week 5: Wednesday, October 25, 2023: IRB Workshop

Third Year, Winter Quarter:

  • Week 3: Wednesday, January 17, 2024: Thesis Alumni Panel
  • Week 6: Wednesday, February 7, 2024: Required BA Thesis and Capstone Project Information Session
  • Week 7: Wednesday, February 14, 2024 BA Thesis Brainstorm Session with CEGU Preceptors
  • Week 8: February 21, 2024 BA Thesis Brainstorm Session with Professor Kindell
  • Week 9: February 28th, 2024 BA Thesis Brainstorm Session with Professor Kindell

Third Year, Spring Quarter:

  • Week 2: Friday, March 29, 2024, 12:00pm: BA Thesis Application due
  • Week 2: Friday, March 29, 2024: Undergraduate Environmental Research Grant information session
  • Week 4: Friday, April 12, 2024: Students are notified whether they are approved to proceed with the BA Thesis
  • Week 4: Friday, April 12, 2024: Undergraduate Environmental Research Grant application opens
  • Week 5: Wednesday, April 17, 2024: Grants Application Workshop led by Professor Kindell
  • Week 6: Friday, April 26, 2024: Undergraduate Environmental Research Grant applications due
  • Week 9: Friday, May 17, 2024: Notification of funding awards
  • Finals Week: Friday, May 24, 2024: BA Thesis reading list, plan, and timeline due

Fourth Year, Autumn Quarter:

  • Students are required to enroll in CEGU 29801: BA Colloquium I 
  • Week 5: Wednesday, October 25, 2023: IRB Workshop

Fourth Year, Winter Quarter:

  • Students are required to enroll in CEGU 29802: BA Colloquium II
  • Throughout Winter Quarter students should have regular check-ins with their faculty advisor
  • Week 3: Wednesday, January 17, 2024: Thesis Alumni Panel

Fourth Year, Spring Quarter:

  • Week 3: Friday, April 5, 2024: BA Thesis First Draft Due at 12:00pm
  • Week 5: Friday, April 19, 2024: Faculty advisors and second readers provide comments and suggested revisions
  • Week 7: Friday, May 3, 2024: BA Thesis Final Draft Due
  • Finals Week: Friday, May 24, 2024 BA Thesis Symposium
BA Thesis Expectations

Students are expected to address—with sources and data—a research question that builds on what they’ve learned as a CEGU/ENST major during their time at UChicago. As you think through your BA thesis project, you might wonder: what constitutes data; how do I formulate a tractable and novel research question based on my interests; who can act as my faculty advisor; or what is the role of the faculty advisor, preceptor, or reader? These are important questions to consider as you develop your topic. We address them below..

  • Students are encouraged to be creative in their approach, using evidence to support their claims and analysis.
  • Evidencecan consist of quantitative or qualitative materials, whether survey data sets, census data, GIS layers; and qualitative data like interviews, ethnography, texts or media, or combinations of such materials.  With guidance from faculty advisers and program preceptors, students gather the evidence themselves. This can involve tailoring a corpus from existing databases and archives, or designing research instruments such as surveys or interviews in the field to generate novel materials for analysis.
  • An appropriate research question for a BA thesis will be one that has a narrow enough scope to be addressed fully in a relatively short amount of time but broad enough that your findings have scholarly relevance beyond your own work. Developing the appropriate scope is a skill that can take years to learn. You are encouraged to refine your topic and research questions with the help of preceptors and your faculty adviser.
  • You are required to have a faculty adviser for the BA thesis. Advisers vary greatly in their mentoring style and you will want to ask them about their expectations for your interactions and let them know yours as well. Both you and your faculty adviser should expect to work closely, particularly in Winter quarter of your 4th year.
Honors

In addition to a minimum GPA of 3.25 overall, and 3.7 in the major, students must complete the BA Thesis Track and receive a high pass grade on the Thesis to receive honors for the major.

BA Capstone 

The BA Capstone is an alternative to the thesis that explores community engagement, experiential learning, or applied research in a key field of environmental practice. This option allows for structured creativity using skills developed throughout the major program, culminating in an engaged project showcasing knowledge and experience in environmental and urban studies. The BA Capstone option is open to all students in the major but does not qualify any student for honors.
 
For AY 2024-25 there are two Capstone options: a Capstone course + an elective, or a Community Field study. Both options require completion of the Capstone application, which is due on March 29, 2024.
 

Two Courses: This capstone option includes two courses, a specified Capstone course + an elective. Students are encouraged to pair courses with interrelated themes which include experiential learning/applied research. Capstone courses and course pairings are updated on a Quarterly basis.

Example course pairings:​

  • Remaking the Prairie + Ecology in the Anthropocene
  • Rocks, plants, ecologies: science fiction and the more-than-human + American Monsters
  • Environmental Justice in Principle and Practice I & II
  • Environmental Law Clinic Practicum
  • Calumet Quarter (Spring 2024)
  • Paris: Urbanism Study Abroad (Autumn 2024, application deadline 2/12)
  • Urban Design with Nature + Theory and Practice of Urban Agriculture


Community Field Study
: This capstone option combines a mentored, off-campus summer field study/internship aligned with academic coursework in the CEGU major.

Requirements and timeline:

  • 3rd Year: Spring: Meet with Director of Community Studies, Professor Pudup (mbp@uchicago.edu) and complete Capstone application by March 29, 2024.
  • Rising 4th Year: Summer: Off-campus summer field study/internship
  • 4th Year Fall: Enroll in Genealogies of Environmental Organizing and Activism
  • 3rd/4th Year: Enroll in related topical elective

Example internships include:

The final Capstone project may be an extended research or policy paper (15-20 pages), a series of writings for art or media (several 6-10 page articles), a design project in a studio-course, a creative project (e.g. short film, artwork, creative writing, or podcast) or other type of project designed along with the course instructors or CEGU capstone coordinator. Students must present their BA Capstone project in the final symposium held at the end of Spring quarter of their 4th year. For questions about the BA Capstone, please contact Mary Beth Pudup, Director of Community Studies at mbp@uchicago.edu.