DURHAM, N.C. – Fourteen Nicholas School of the Environment undergraduate students will present their senior theses, a core component of earning Graduation with Distinction honors, in virtual sessions starting Friday, April 17. The virtual presentations will continue through Monday, April 27. 

View the complete schedule, along with abstracts for the students’ presentations. All presentations will take place at https://duke.zoom.us/j/379963389

The Graduation with Distinction program recognizes undergraduates who demonstrate academic excellence through the successful completion of a senior’ thesis based on a substantive independent research project evaluated by a committee of three faculty members. The projects typically include a 25-50 page written manuscript and a poster summarizing its findings.

To earn the honor, students must also have a 3.0 grade point average overall and a 3.2 grade point average in their major. The Nicholas School offers BS and AB degrees in Earth and Ocean Sciences, an AB in Environmental Science & Policy, and a BS in Environmental Science. Students can pursue a Marine Science & Conservation concentration within their major.

This year’s candidates for Graduation with Distinction honors (along with their project titles, presentation dates and time, and the names of their faculty advisor and examiner) are:


  • 11:00-11:20 a.m.: Ethan Ready, “Ranges of Picea abies and Abies alba Drive Differing Fecundity Responses to Climate Change in a Mixed-species Forest.” Advisor: Jim Clark. Examiner: Ram Oren.
  • 1:00-1:20: p.m.: Alyssa Cleveland, “Beltlines: Eco-Gentrification and the Legacy of Housing and Environmental Discrimination.” Advisor: Elizabeth Albright. Examiner: Tom Schultz.


  • 10:00 – 10:20 a.m.: Margaret Overton, “’We’re Just in There Trying to Get the Work Done’: The Influence of Women on Decision-Making in the Sierra Club.” Advisor: Megan Mullin. Examiner: Tom Schultz.
  • 11:00 to 11:20 a.m.: Krista Stark, “A Comparison of the Spatiotemporal Heat-Mortality Relationship between China and the U.S.” Advisor: Drew Shindell. Examiner: Prasad Kasibhatla.
  • 1:00 to 1:20 p.m.: Yutao Gong, “A Case Study on China’s Rate-based Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trading System: Appropriateness, Challenges and Prospects.” Advisor: Jackson Ewing. Examiner: Prasad Kasibhatla.
  • 1:40-2:00 p.m.: D’amy Steward, “Quantifying Spatial Distributions and Benthic Footprints of Artificial Reefs on the Southeastern USA Continental Shelf.” Advisor: Brian Silliman. Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly.


  • 11:00-11:20 a.m.: Anna Kustar, “Environmental Life-Cycle Assessment of Diet: Are Plant-based Solutions Truly Sustainable?” Advisor: Dalia Patiño-Echeverri. Examiner: Lori Bennear.
  • 11:20-11:40 a.m.: Andrea Kolarova, “Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) Stress and Survivorship in the Dry Tortugas.” Advisor: Stuart Pimm. Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly.
  • 11:40-12:00 a.m.: Hazel Horvath, “Resilience in Natural Disaster Recovery: Rebuilding Sustainably in North Carolina.” Advisors: Tatjana Vujic and Tim Profeta. Examiner: Jim Heffernan.
  • 1:20-1:40 p.m.: Emma Schmaltz, “Can Marine Mammals Point the Way to Understanding Responses to Environmental Hypoxia?” Advisor: Meagan Dunphy-Daly. Examiner: Tom Schultz.
  • 1:40-2:00 p.m.: Jennifer Marsh, “Formation of Chromite Seams through Reactive Volatile Fluid Infiltration.” Advisor: Alan Boudreau. Examiner: Alex Glass.
  • 2:00-2:20 p.m.: Ariyani Challapalli, “Improving Concentration Response Functions for Fine Particulate Air Pollution to Assess the Morbidity Burdens of Bronchitis and Asthma.” Advisor: Drew Shindell. Examiner: Prasad Kasibhatla.
  • 2:20-2:40 p.m.: Melissa Baldino, “Estimating the Carbon Offsetting Potential of Shellfish Aquaculture.” Advisor: Dan Rittschof.  Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly.


  • 3:00-3:20 p.m.: Nicholas Peoples, “Morphological Diversity of Lake Victoria Haplochromine Cichlids: Understanding Drivers of Diversification Using a Geometric Morphometric Approach.” Advisor: Stuart Pimm. Examiner: Ram Oren.

Faculty committees will evaluate each student’s full thesis in coming weeks. Earning Graduation with Distinction honors is contingent upon the committees’ recommendations.