National Geographic Grant (2019 - 2020)

When a picture is combined with 1000 words

Recently, the United Nations has urged greater use of storytelling—a particularly successful approach in affecting people’s beliefs other domains—to help listening audiences better resonate with the issue of climate change. We propose testing a potentially even more powerful intervention to shift the mindsets of the storytellers themselves. Specifically, we propose to leverage different approaches to storytelling to enhance students’ commitment to what is arguably the most pressing issue facing youth around the world—global climate change. The goal of this project is to ascertain which of a promising array of storytelling approaches (personal, visual, or combined) is most effective in shifting participants’ attitudes and behaviors towards biodiversity and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, with a relatively large dataset, we should be able to explore whether the effects of the intervention differ for diverse sub-populations of students (e.g., first-generation college students or science/technology/engineering/math oriented students). Thus, our objectives are to learn which storytelling approach is most effective for which outcomes (shifting students’ attitudes or shifting students’ behaviors) and for which students.

Spencer Foundation

Spencer Foundation

Spencer Foundation Mid-Career Award

The right environment for a new approach: Adding content to social interventions in environmental education

**I was fortunate enough to receive a Spencer Mid-Career fellowship to pivot a portion of my research towards environmental education and issues of sustainability.  Below is a synopsis of my proposed year of study.**

Recent educational interventions have successfully altered students’ perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors through social means or have bolstered students’ content knowledge with new curricular approaches. Few interventions do both. Yet, to tackle society’s most daunting problems such as environmental sustainability, students simultaneously need deep content knowledge, resilient attitudes, and the ability to act on these problems. To develop students with these diverse capacities, educators need a new approach to educational interventions.  This proposal centers on “content-driven social interventions” which create synergies between the disparate goals of bolstering understanding, shaping perceptions, and inspiring behavior change within the same intervention. During the proposed course of study I hope to learn how to transform the social psychological interventions that form the foundation of my past experiments into content-driven social interventions. Specifically, I seek to:

1. Develop knowledge of the core environmental practices and principles that secondary-school students need to know,
2. Learn storytelling techniques to develop case-based curricula which teach scientific content and principles in ways that maximize understanding and retention,
3. Acquire basic methodological competence in social network analysis to better document the effects of these new interventions, and

4. Conduct preliminary pilot experiments that test the efficacy of these interventions.


Laura & John Arnold Foundation

Laura and John Arnold Foundation Grant (2016 – 2018)

Creating Birds of a Feather: Mitigating Inequality by Reducing the Achievement Gap

Project Description:  Educational disparities between students from different racial and cultural backgrounds cause differential employment opportunities, inequitable socio-economic outcomes, and wealth gaps, which in turn perpetuate differential educational opportunities for the next generation. The proposed randomized controlled trial will evaluate an intervention to help disrupt this pernicious cycle of inequality.  By using the psychological principle of similarity to improve relationships between faculty and students, the intervention aims to improve academic achievement for undergraduates.  The intervention is designed to help close the achievement gap between minority students and first-generation students relative to their peers who are White or from families whose parents went to college.  Specifically, the intervention employs a get-to-know-you survey to help students and faculty members find areas of commonality around which they can bond.  This study will investigate the efficacy of this intervention through a field experiment by randomly assigning instructor-student dyads to either find out about commonalities they share from the initial get-to-know-you survey or not.  In the treatment dyads both instructors and students learn what they have in common; in the control dyads, the students receive placebo feedback (what they have in common with students on other campuses) while the instructors receive no feedback on this half of their students.  The study will explore whether the intervention improves instructor-student relationships, as well as student academic performance and persistence in college. 

Robertson Foundation

Robertson Foundation

Robertson Foundation Project (2017-2018)

Thanks to the Robertson Foundation for their generous funding in supporting a replication of the Birds of a Feather study with a group of middle schools.