Sustainability and Social Science Research Symposium

Just a few short days after our commencement ceremonies at VCUArts Qatar, I jumped on a plane headed to Michigan to participate in the “Sustainability and Social Science Research Symposium.” The conference was held at the University of Michigan (U of M) in cooperation with the Inter-University Sustainable Development Research Programme (IUSDRP), Manchester Metropo2litan University, HAW Hamburg and a number of institutions active in this field.

The symposium provided a multidisciplinary overview of research efforts and projects from across the spectrum of the social sciences related to research opportunities in the field of sustainability. The event aimed to foster the exchange of information, ideas, and experiences acquired in the execution of research projects, especially initiatives which have influenced behavior, decision-making, or policy. The conference organizers went on to describe their intentions as:

“Many scholars perform high-quality research on matters related to sustainability. Yet, there are relatively few events where a multidisciplinary overview of research efforts and projects has taken place, and where researchers scholars from across the spectrum of the social sciences have had the opportunity to come together to discuss research methods, research findings, or exchange ideas about on-going and future research opportunities focusing on sustainability.”

There was an exceptional lineup of speakers throughout the conference and I was honoured to chair “Session 2” on the first full day of conference presentations. Each presentation gave unique insight into the way researchers and social scientists are engaging participants in Sustainability topics.

Noah J. Webster (Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan) spoke about his research with Robert W. Marans and John Callewaert who are working together to explore if (and at which point) during a university students’ educational experience, that “waste prevention awareness mediates the link between engagement and behavior change.”

Next, Sandra Rodegher (Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University) discussed her pilot study exploring the impact of “explicit acknowledgement of status differential and pre-event brainstorming on participation in a small group task.”

Stefan Zimmermann (Business Psychology, University of Applied Sciences) shared three case studies with the audience that demonstrated the application of a stage model as a way to describe “the psychological aspects involved in participatory processes in an environmental context.”

Laura B. Cole (Architectural Studies University of Missouri) introduced her research on Teaching Green Buildings and discussed five roles for these buildings including symbol, science museum, 3D textbook, call to action, and place. She explained that these buildings are “designed to educate building users about green building design and often broader themes about the connection between buildings and their surrounding ecosystems.”

If you would like to read the abstracts from these speakers or others at the conference, please visit this link to see the full program.

On the following day of the conference, I presented my research with Kelly Murdoch-Kitt as part of the Session entitled: “Connective Methodologies: Visual Communication Design and Sustainability in Higher Education.” Our presentation traced the evolution (from the 1960s to present) wherein higher education classrooms frequently integrate ecological and social dimensions into teaching while highlighting design’s distinct approaches to fueling creative action. We received great feedback from the interdisciplinary audience and U of M faculty, making both Kelly and I excited about the next stage of our research together.

Kelly will be teaching at U of M starting in the Fall and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. I know we’re both looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with faculty and students at the Graham Sustainability Institute. Heartfelt thanks to the organizers of the conference, John Callewaert, Walter Leal, Robert Marans, and Mihaela Sima! We would love to see the conference symposium back again next year.