As an interdisciplinary environmental and natural resource sociologist, the focus of my work is on the integration of social dynamics in multi-scalar assessments of environmental issues.
Within sociology, my work focuses on how people relate to the natural environment and natural resources, how they make sense of changes and vulnerabilities in their landscapes, and their capacity for collective action. These place-based insights, woven with theories and observations from social and biophysical science, provide a transdisciplinary basis for collective understanding and taking action to mitigate risks and threats and enhance value in lived experiences.
Beyond sociology, I bring social science frameworks and empirical research into collaborative assessments of environmental challenges that combine social and physical dynamics. These efforts are situated in different ecosystem and geographic contexts and have involved working closely with researchers from water sciences, forestry, biogeochemistry, plant phytochemistry, agricultural sciences and engineering, systems ecology, landscape planning, and other sciences. My students and I infuse social theory and methods into applied natural resource research with clear implications for local, regional, national, and international decision-making.
My current research and engagement efforts include the following:
- Water Reuse in Utah
With funds from USDA, we are working with a team of engineers to assess health risks and perceptions of secondary irrigation water in Cache Valley, Utah. We are integrating survey research and community engagement with water sampling in multiple locations with varying degrees of incorporation of treated wastewater in secondary water, particularly for residential irrigation. With funds from the Utah Division of Water Resources, we will be assessing the status of water reuse plans and projects statewide by administering surveys and interviews with water treatment managers, irrigation district representatives, and water conservancy district representatives. These projects allow us to not only integrate social and engineering water science, but also to better understand the roles of risk perception, community engagement, and technological innovation in water resource management.
- Assessing Wellbeing Across Utah Communities and Beyond
In a new 5-year Utah Agricultural Experiment Station project, we seek to compare perceptions of wellbeing with indicators of wellbeing across Utah communities. We have launched a new public intercept survey project using iPads to collect perceptual data on wellbeing, based on a variety of inquiry dimensions from life satisfaction and happiness to assessing importance and performance of a dozen wellbeing domains. This project will not only allow us to map wellbeing within and across communities, but also to assess decision makers’ perspectives on the role of wellbeing information in policy making. While starting in Utah, we seek to expand to an international scope focusing on wellbeing in mountain and coastal communities, integrating inquiry into the role of landscape features in perceived wellbeing.
- iUTAH: Innovative Transitions in Arid-Region Hydro-sustainability
I am currently a co-PI for this 5-year, large NSF funded project on water science and sustainability in Utah. In addition to helping to lead research focused on social and engineered water systems, my students and I are focusing our work on assessing a) perspectives of Utah’s water issues from across multiple vantage points; b) statewide indicators of community and water vulnerability and adaptive capacity; c) coverage of water in newspaper media; and d) establishing data management policies and procedures to meet data sharing expectations. Our work involves numerous student initiatives as well as full engagement with local and state decision makers and water managers. http://iutahepscor.org/about.html
- Human-Nature Relationships & Landscape Dynamics
With collaborators in Europe, I am working to expand understanding of human-nature relationship perceptions into collective and community processes and in the context of risk and landscape disturbance. How do we relate to nature? Do we see ourselves as more masters, stewards, users, or participants in relationship to nature? Does this influence our risk perceptions and our decisions and actions? Now that we have an established a typology and dimensions of human-nature relationships, we will continue to apply these in different settings to assess what perceptual and experiential dimensions are generalizable and what are context specific in terms of situational, spatial, and temporal dynamics.￼
Board of Scientific Counselors for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency In my advising role with the US EPA, I worked with others on the BOSC to review the research and development of the agency to promote the application of the best theoretical and empirical tools available in the interest of environmental health and wellbeing. I led a workshop to help to more fully integrate the social sciences into the realms of environmental health science and policy.
I did my bachelor’s degree in geography at Northern Arizona University, running around the mountains, canyons and high deserts of the Four-Corners region. My love of John Denver took me to Boulder, Colorado for my Masters degree in geography where I discovered new loves of pragmatism, historical perspective, environmental social science, and my husband Colin. My PhD is from Penn State University where I formally became a sociologist in their strong rural and natural resource traditions and found my new “family” of fantastic colleagues through the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) and the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR) – connections I continue to facilitate for my students.
My past research projects on community response to forest disturbance by bark beetles in Alaska and Colorado, on integrated knowledge for community wellness in the face of social and environmental change in Alaska Native communities, and on linking farmer perspectives and biogeochemistry on water quality in Illinois continue to live on in the insights and methods I apply to new projects. For example, the kids in Point Hope, Alaska will forever make me value the contributions of young people in understanding community and environmental change and I plan to partner with them in future projects whenever possible. Stakeholders in the midst of landscape and policy changes shed new light on resource values and vulnerabilities as well as options for decision-making that stretch our interdisciplinary theories and frameworks.