Making a difference: Deans Scholar Studies how to Increase Recycling

Name: Lauren Gottschalk

Class: 2017

Hometown: Kettering, Ohio

Majors: Psychology and Environmental Science

mcconell-gottchalk image

(Lauren Gottschalk ‘17 and her mentor, Dr. Allen McConnell, analyze the data from Gottschalk’s Dean’s Scholar Research Project)

What is your Dean’s Scholar Project about?

My study not only aimed to help further our understanding from basic social psychology principles but to offer concrete data highlighting how outreach programs in conservation and sustainability could benefit American environmental stewardship. Specifically, I studied whether having people pledge to recycle more would actually be successful and how the framing of such pledges mattered. Participants in my study received a pledge that was either framed to say that recycling benefitted the biosphere (animals, plants, the Earth) or that it benefitted the self. It was also framed to say the pledge was being provided for an ingroup (a Miami student group) or an outgroup (a student group at another university). As predicted, those who received a pledge framed for the biosphere were more likely to recycle and held more progress environmental attitudes (e.g., we do not dominate the world but rather should live respectfully with the biosphere). The results also highlighted that the biospheric framing mattered more than the ingroup-outgroup framing, suggesting the importance of highlighting the planet as a benefactor when it comes to pro-environmental choices and behaviors. These findings illustrated that pro-environmental behaviors can be successfully improved through the wording of a pledge. Although my study was focused on the environment, it also offered insight to what components of a pledge make it more powerful in general, regardless of the type of pledge.

How has the Dean's Scholar award enriched your Miami experience and/or impacted your postgraduate plans?

I am a University Honors candidate for 2017 and wanted to further my education by completing Departmental Honors in Psychology. Part of the honors requirements is to complete a psychology study and write a senior thesis reporting the results. The Dean’s Scholar Award made this possible. My goals for my Dean Scholar project was to showcase how the field of conservation psychology can add to the conversation of sustainability and development. I wanted to help further our understanding of how to get communities actively involved in pro-environmental behaviors.

The Dean’s Scholar Award has allowed me to complete this project, and it will support my presenting a talk in April 2017 at the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) Meeting in Chicago. I was able to work closely with my faculty mentor, Dr. Allen McConnell, to development my research skills and to oversee my senior thesis project. These experiences will help me after graduation as well to gain research experience that will help me in graduate school as I pursue a degree in the psychology-conservation space, and it will help me when I am a co-author on a paper that we submit for publication. My project allows me to show graduate schools and employers alike my capabilities in the research field and has served as an impressive conversation starter for those in my future as I apply to graduate school (and some day, to jobs). With the award funds, I will be able to present my research to professionals and point a spotlight on this up and coming field.

What are your plans after graduating?

Next year, I plan to be enrolled in Miami’s Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) through Project Dragonfly, in which I will pursue a Masters of Arts in Biology in affiliation with a partnership between Miami and the Cincinnati Zoo. The program will allow me to further my understanding of how local outreach programs are created and maintained, work closely with professionals in the field who head these programs, gain connections and build my professional networking, and offer my own psychological insights to programs where often people are more focused on biological systems than social systems. I will also gain a well-rounded knowledge of environmental sciences as I will have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (and an IES co-major) along with a Master’s in Biology. Through these experiences, I hope to one day head my own local outreach program with the goals to educate and successfully engage the local community in pro-environmental actions and choices.

Mentor: Dr. Allen R. McConnell, Professor of Psychology

Lauren was a very strong student in my Honors Seminar in Social Psychology in 2014. She began working my lab that semester, and has been a rising star in it ever since.

Lauren's senior thesis project is impressive and important work. In her senior thesis project, Lauren is studying what aspects of pledge behavior are effective in promoting pro-environment action. The data collection for Lauren’s study was painstaking because she tracked whether students threw their debriefing information form away  in the trash or recycled it at the end of the experiment. Each day, Lauren went through the psychology building trash cans for the students’ debriefing forms.

What Lauren found in her study was novel and strong enough to be published in a top scientific journal, such as Journal of Environmental Psychology. In April, Lauren will be giving a talk in Chicago at the Midwestern Psychological Association, a prominent research conference, which is an activity more common place for a second year doctoral student than an undergraduate. Having seen her present her work elsewhere, I know she’ll do a bang up job!

I believe Lauren has a very promising future ahead as someone who seeks to blend psychology and conservation together to address some of the most important challenges facing us in the decades ahead. Students such as Lauren, even in the context of our strongest Miami undergraduates, stand out and represent the best Miami has to offer. At Miami, Lauren has excelled in the classroom, developed strong research skills in the lab, and then applied those talents in real-world settings are the people who really make a difference. I know Lauren has the smarts, talent, and passion to do great things and to tackle the most important issues of our time, and I look forward to her many successes in the years ahead that truly make a difference!

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