DURHAM, N.C. – Thirteen Nicholas School of the Environment undergraduate students will present their senior theses, a core component of earning Graduation with Distinction honors, in virtual sessions via Zoom on Thursday, April 15, and Friday, April 16.

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- to 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 Climate Sciences, an AB in Environmental Science & Policy, and a BS in Environmental Science. Students can pursue a Marine Science & Conservation concentration within their major. Starting this fall, the school will also offer AB and BS degrees in Marine Science & Conservation.

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:

THURSDAY, APRIL 15                   

  • 11:00-11:20 a.m.: Riccardo Romersi, “Unfolding a Pathway: How Mesencephalic Astrocyte-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (MANF) Attenuates Neurodegeneration,” (Advisor: Joel Meyer; Faculty Examiner: Rich Di Giulio)
  • 11:30-11:50 a.m.: Bridgette Keane, “Using Drones to Estimate Above-Ground Biomass in Belize Mangroves,” (Advisor: David Johnston; Faculty Examiner: Jennifer Swenson)
  • 1:30-1:50 p.m.: Marley Kaplan, “Understanding Change in Economic Well-being within Marine Protected Area Coastal Communities: The Case Study of the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia,” (Advisor: David Gill; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)
  • 2:00-2:20 p.m.: Kimberly Hernandez, “Life Cycle Assessment of Tomatoes: The Case of Local Heirloom Varieties vs Industrial Cultivars,”  (Advisor: Dalia Patiño-Echeverri; Faculty Examiner: Prasad Kasibhatla)
  • 4:00-4:20 p.m.: Paola Casado-Cocero, “Microplastic Contaminants in Marine Organisms: Do You Know Where Your Seafood Comes From?”  (Advisor: Chantal Reid; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)


  • 10:00-10:20 a.m.: Melissa Marchese, “Mercury Accumulation in Foodstuffs from Artisanal Goldmining Areas of Madre de Dios, Peru and Estimated Human Exposure,” (Advisor: Emily Bernhardt; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)
  • 11:00-11:20 a.m.: Jessica Wang, “Reproductive Patterns of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Potomac River-Chesapeake Bay,” (Advisor: Andy Read; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)
  • 1:00-1:20 p.m.: Katherine Knotek, “Movement Patterns of Short-Finned Pilot Whales: A Comparison of Photo-Identification Catalogues from Cape Hatteras and the Bahamas and Implications for Species Management and Protection,” (Advisor: Andy Read; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)
  • 1:30-1:50 p.m.: Candice Sheehan, “Detecting, Counting, and Classifying Pinnipeds in Drone Imagery Using a Convolutional Neural Network,” (Advisor: David Johnston; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)
  • 2:00-2:20 p.m.: Danielle Brown, “Disparities in Potable Water Access in Puerto Rico Post-Hurricane María: A Water Management Case Study,” (Advisor: Rebecca Vidra; Faculty Examiner: Betsy Albright)
  • 3:00-3:20 p.m.: Martin Trinh, “Spatial and Temporal Analysis of PFAS Distribution in the Haw River,” (Advisor: Heather Stapleton; Faculty Examiner: Lee Ferguson)
  • 4:00-4:20 p.m.: Chloe Meyers, “Generating a Route for Plastic ‘Un-Impairment’ at Kamilo Beach, Hawaii.” (Advisor: Steve Roady; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)
  • 4:30-4:50: Kendall Jefferys, “The Role of Governance and Social Context in Shaping MPA Food Security Impacts,” (Advisor: David Gill; Faculty Examiner: Meagan Dunphy-Daly)

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