Professor, Community Resource Specialist for USU Extension
Natural Resource Sociology, Community Sociology & Engagement, Interdisciplinary Ecosystem Science, Mixed Methods
As a natural resource sociologist and community resource specialist, the focus of my work is 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. I’m interested in providing sound data to support local decisions on land use, natural resource management, and community well-being.
I have worked closely with researchers from water sciences, engineering, forestry, biogeochemistry, plant phytochemistry, agricultural sciences and engineering, systems ecology, landscape planning, and other sciences as well as local leaders and representatives of citizen action groups. Working across disciplinary lines, as well as working with people beyond the scientific realm, is integral to addressing complex social-environmental changes.
My current research and engagement efforts include:
- Assessing Wellbeing Across Utah Communities and Beyond
In a 5-year Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and USU Extension project, we are assessing wellbeing across Utah cities to inform local planning processes. We have heard from over 6,500 people to date. Reports can be found at https://extension.usu.edu/business-and-community/utah-wellbeing-project/index
- 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 and Utah Division of Water Quality, we have assessed 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. We are updating the Utah Water Reuse Report (2005).
- River Organizations in the Intermountain West
There are over 400 organizations focused on river or watershed action across the Intermountain West. We are systematically assessing these organizations through in-depth interviews and site visits to better understand what leads to successful collaboration and outcomes related to rivers. These insights will inform an ongoing effort on the social ecology of rivers.
- Board of Scientific Counselors for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
In my advising role with the US EPA, I work 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 serve as the chair of the subcommittee on Sustainable and Healthy Communities.
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 Master’s 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 International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR) – connections I continue to facilitate for my students.
My past research projects on community action in 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. I value international collaborations and have worked extensively with colleagues in Austria on projects relating to human-nature relationships, rivers, and farm-based soil conservation. 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. In my new role in USU Extension, I will work to bring new tools and approaches to help those in Utah communities addressing complex issues and changes.