Earth & Space Sciences

Departmental Honors Spotlight

Each quarter, the University Honors Program showcases the remarkable work done by Honors students and faculty within their majors. While the programs vary from discipline to discipline, most typically conclude in a major research or artistic project and all challenge the students to bring their work to the next level. We hope that you enjoy discovering the many and diverse Honors programs in the departments around campus!

Earth & Space Sciences Honors Adviser

Bruce Nelson
Bruce Nelson

The Earth & Space Sciences undergraduate program emphasizes hands-on, personal involvement in investigating our planet and solar system. From introductory through senior level courses students solve problems in the field, engage in laboratory work, blow up rockets in the desert, climb volcanoes, and model chemical, biological and physical processes that shape our planet. In the ESS Honors program this experience is intensified and brought to a higher level through engagement in original research directly supervised by faculty. Because the enormous range of research within the department is reflected in the senior research projects of the Honors students, bringing this cohort together to teach, explain and discuss their projects is a study in interdisciplinary research. Our students have studied the glacial history in Antarctica, paleontology in Africa, environmental contamination in Washington, geologic history in Death Valley, volcanism in the Canary Islands and Hawaii, the evolution of the surface of Mars (remotely of course), and the origin and history of earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest. Research is incomplete without dissemination of the results, and so our Honors students all must present their work at the Mary Gates Undergraduate Research symposium, or at a professional earth science conference.

The Honors seminar is where the most exceptional 10-20% of our majors come together to engage in more intense scientific discussion and critique both of their peers and of visiting scientists.

Overlaid on the scientific exploration is a focused and personalized program to develop – in a way not possible in regular classes – professional skills of public presentation, scientific writing, critical analysis, proposal writing and examination of scientific ethics. Much of this is done in the Honors seminar, but the department also promotes the development of teaching skills by requiring each student to actively participate in providing support to graduate student teaching assistants in class laboratories. The students in the Honors Program arrive with exceptional abilities. The focus on developing professional skills allows our undergraduates to use their academic talents to maximum impact. In many aspects, the Honors Program in ESS reemphasizes the development of skills central to a liberal arts education that are needed for future career success and to provide constructive engagement in translation of science to address societal needs.

Mika Usher
Mika Usher

B.S. in Earth & Space Sciences, 2013
Departmental Honors

This year, as a senior pursuing a degree in the Earth and Space Sciences: Physics Option and a minor in mathematics, Mika will become one of the first undergraduate students to explore the deep field of West Antarctica. Her independent research project will be analysis of deglaciation patterns of the West Antarctic ice sheet using cosmogenic isotope dating methods on bedrock to gain a better understanding of ice sheet response to climate change. As part of the honors program, she plans to present her research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium and the annual West Antarctic Ice Sheet Workshop. She is also assisting a graduate student T.A. in the ESS 101 lab and participating in the ESS Honors Seminar. Mika enjoys the seminar because it is helping her to develop the critical thinking skills that are essential to effective research study and has exposed her to the variety of theories and methods currently being pursued in earth science.