Culminating Experience

Culminating Experience (Thesis and Special Project)

The culminating experience in the Master of Public Health Program is the Thesis or Special Project. Students select one of these two experiences with the approval of the graduate faculty. In some instances, a topic selected for a thesis may be more appropriate for a special project or vice versa, and students will be guided accordingly.

Eligibility Requirements to Submit a Thesis or Special Project Application

The Culminating Experience requirement guides students through a praxis experience that serves as the MPH comprehensive exam. Students have two options to choose from to meet this important requirement: either Special Project or a Thesis.

Special Project

For this option, students design a practical, community-based project to implement in the field. Students must partner with an agency to implement a health program, evaluation, or other project that will demonstrate mastery of essential public health skills. Students will have the support of both an academic advisor and agency preceptor. Students who elect this option will register for PCH 593 and 594.


For this option, students design and conduct an original, independent research study. Students must identify a research question, obtain IRB approval, collect and analyze data, and report findings in the thesis format. Students will have the support of an academic advisor and second reader. Students who elect this option will register for PCH 590 and 591.

Both options require two semesters of work: the first semester is used for designing the project and gaining approval of a written prospectus; the second semester is used for implementing the project and completing the final written report.

Since this requirement is used to assess students’ mastery of MPH program competencies, it should be completed during the last two terms before graduation. However, students must apply for the Special Project/Thesis the semester prior to enrolling in PCH 590 or 593, using the application form provided on the department website. This application will demonstrate readiness to begin the culminating experience and provide a means for matching students to advisors. Students may begin the Special Project of Thesis only after the application has been approved in writing by the Graduate Coordinator.

To be eligible to enroll in PCH 593 Special Project I or PCH 590 Thesis Seminar I, a student must meet all of the following eligibility criteria:

  1. Be a matriculated student about to enter the final year of study for the M.P.H. degree;

  2. Have completed all first-year core courses: PCH 500, 504, 510, 516, 520, 515, 551, 564, and 577;

  3. Possess a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 for all courses completed toward the degree;

  4. Have achieved a grade of "C+" or higher in each course taken toward the degree;

The application process and deadline will be announced every semester and a Culminating Experience Orientation session will also be held each term to help students prepare.

Advisor Assignment

Thesis and Special Project Advisors will be assigned on the basis of availability, expertise, and interest. Graduate faculty member have a specific number of credits allocated for advisement of theses and special projects in their teaching programs for a given academic year.

Department Guidelines for Thesis and Special Project