Description: participant-observation, semi-structured interviews, surveys; Undergraduate Research
Researcher: Maggie Sheehan
Partners: Mason Park Block Watch, University Park Alliance, University of Akron Research Foundation
Throughout the past year I have been studying issues of environmental health while working with the Mason Park Block Watch group. Members of the Block Watch have been fighting the presence of a waste transfer station in their neighborhood for over ten years and believe the station has caused significant environmental, economic, and health impacts. In reaction to these concerns, I have been conducting household health surveys in Mason Park and a second Akron neighborhood of similar sociodemographics in an attempt to determine if the waste tranfer station has indeed affected the health of the surrounding neighborhood.
Description: Semi-structured and structured interviews, participant observation; Independent Undergraduate Research
Researcher: Gretchen Pleuss
Over spring semester, 2012, I studied at La Universidad de San Ignacio in Cusco, Peru, where I had the opportunity to conduct my own research project analyzing the tourism industry of the Cusco region and its effects on the people involved. I researched the influx of tourists over the past ten years and the resulting economy, conducted personal interviews with tour guides and international students, and used some informal participant observation to better understand the interactions between tourists, locals, and their surroundings.
Description: Survey, Story Circles; Undergraduate Honors Research Project
Researcher: Nicolle LaNasa
Partners: Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center
The expansion of the built environment as well as the spread of information technology have increased sedentism and limited humans’ overall access to and exposure to the natural environment. The resulting phenomenon, called “nature deficit disorder” (NDD), has been linked to a multitude of physical and psychological health concerns that are particularly threatening to children born in the “information age.” While many forms of science and environmental education have sought to improve awareness regarding the natural environment, they have oftentimes furthered children’s fear of ecological deterioration and have reinforced their existing disengagement from nature, arguably compounding NDD. Using a mixed-methods approach, this study explores the connection between exposure to nature and children’s environmental orientations in order to better understand the root of environmental disengagement. Fifty-nine fourth and fifth-grade students participating in a nature-based environmental education (NBEE) program and thirty students in a control group responded to a survey measuring two distinct constructs of environmental orientation, “eco-affinity” and “eco-awareness.”
For NBEE participants, results were compared pre-and post-exposure to NBEE. In addition to qualitative data, quantitative data was collected in the form of story circles, where participants shared stories about their experiences with nature and technology. Greatest improvements in environmental orientation occurred in the realm of eco-affinity, reflected in both survey and story circle results. Most notably, discourses shifted from “eco-phobia”—fear of nature—to wonder, suggesting a connection between NDD and discourses of fear. This research seeks to place NDD in evolutionary/ecological, cultural-ecological, and political-economic contexts. It then takes a critical perspective that problematizes the medicalization of NDD and links the emergence of the phenomenon instead to societal discourses of fear and global forces of power.