“The environment is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” -  Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson

Virginia Tech shows tangible progress toward promoting climate action and sustainability in its 2020-21 Sustainability Annual Report. As part of these efforts, Najla Mouchrek, collegiate assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Honors College, started a partnership with the Office of Sustainability to help build and foster a culture of sustainability on campus.

Mouchrek has been awarded a faculty grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research to launch the Honors Culture of Sustainability Lab. This program serves as a space for honors undergraduate students to engage in interdisciplinary research exploring cultural and social aspects of sustainability. In this lab, students investigate environmental values and attitudes as well as psychological barriers to sustainable behavior among the Virginia Tech community.

“As a whole, we need more information about the perceptions and values that the Virginia Tech student population has about the eco-social crisis and sustainable practices,” Mouchrek said. “While many people recognize the implications of climate change and the need to make changes, there is in general a disconnect between the values and attitudes regarding the environment and the actual behaviors implemented."

Through this program, students have the opportunity to practice their research skills related to sustainability in a transdisciplinary setting. Because the challenges related to the eco-social emergency are inherently complex and multi-faceted, it’s important for the lab to include researchers from diverse fields.

Mouchrek is working with Sustainability Program Manager Nathan King and Sustainability Coordinator Emily Vollmer to promote pro-environmental actions among Virginia Tech students.

“I’m really excited to take part and help out in this lab,” Vollmer said. “I'm looking forward to finding all these barriers and getting rid of them so that more students can practice sustainability on campus.”

The research results from this lab will directly contribute to the implementation of Virginia Tech’s 12th climate action commitment goal, which is to “diminish barriers to sustainable behaviors through institutional change, education, and social marketing.” Identifying these barriers is especially important to the Office of Sustainability because that data will directly impact its plans, programs, events, and policies.

“Our overall vision with this partnership is to not only get students involved more academically and through undergraduate research, but to also harness their passion and help them build that skill set that they'll take [with them] throughout the rest of their lives [and] into the working world,” King said.

Mouchrek proposed the idea of launching the Honors Culture of Sustainability Lab after she met King and Vollmer at a Climate Action Living Laboratory Retreat. The lab started this spring as a course-based undergraduate research project in the honors transdisciplinary seminar she teaches, UH 3504 Culture of Sustainability Lab.

“If we want to engage in concrete ways to address the eco-social emergency locally, we need more information,” Mouchrek explained. “How can we foster more pro environmental behaviors, and how can we understand students’ motivations? The research project is inspired by the body of knowledge developed by Dr. Robert Gifford on the psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation at the individual level.

"I thank the Office of Undergraduate Research for supporting this project," Mouchrek said.

The program will complement the current offerings related to research and transdisciplinary collaboration in the Honors College. Students interested in participating may enroll in UH 3504: Investigating the Global Eco-Social Emergency for fall.

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