One of the primary goals of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE) is to prepare social science faculty to compete for external funds to support their research. This aim is achieved, in part, through ISCE’s signature Scholars Program.

“We are delighted to announce the next cohort of ISCE Scholars,” said Karen Roberto, executive director of ISCE. “This group of talented researchers is interested in a broad range of social issues, ranging from mitigating risk of injury among older adults to understanding the role of artificial intelligence in urban planning to using citizen science to engage vulnerable populations in heat resilience planning. We are excited about both the breadth of the issues they are studying as well as the relevance of their work to many pressing concerns facing our world today.”

Supporting social science research, broadly defined, is at the heart of what ISCE does. Scholars, who are awarded up to $30,000 for a period of a year, typically work in interdisciplinary teams and conduct pilot studies or other preparatory research so that they are ready to apply to external funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, or private foundations, such as the William T. Grant Foundation or the Virginia Environmental Endowment.

Willandia Chaves, an assistant professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is the lead researcher for a project focused on understanding the role of education and community cultural wealth in the participation of racial and ethnic minority groups in nature-based activities and civic engagement.

“We know that direct interaction with the natural environment has benefits to human health and wellbeing, as well as results in more positive attitudes and behaviors towards nature,” said Chaves. “However, interactions with nature are decreasing. This fact is particularly concerning for Black, Asian, and Latinx people as they have lower rates of participation in nature-based activities and less access to nature compared to white people.”

According to Chaves and co-investigators Ashley Dayer, assistant professor of fish and wildlife conservation, and Tiffany Drape, research assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Black, Asian and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation, such as pollution, and have reduced access to green spaces due to a number of factors such as historical segregation, institutionalized racism, lack of role models, and safety concerns.

The research team plans to explore the use of environmental education and community cultural wealth to understand their impact on the participation of racial and ethnic minorities in nature-based recreational activities and environmental civic engagement such as conservation efforts.

“Community Cultural Wealth is an asset-based model that acknowledges the cultural resources that minoritized groups develop and use to survive and resist different forms of oppression,” Chaves explained.

For the purposes of their research, the research team defines civic engagement as “ways people participate in decision making processes in their communities to improve conditions for them and others.”

Chaves, Dayer, and Drape plan to center their research on water resources and will use a sequential mixed-methods design to explore how previous educational experiences and community cultural wealth influence people’s decisions to participate in water-based recreational activities or civic engagement, such as participation in public meetings related to water conservation.

Findings from their ISCE Scholar award will inform the development of several larger grant applications such as to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the National Science Foundation.

“ISCE support will be essential to launch this collaborative project,” said Chaves. “With this support, we will gain more experience on this topic, obtain preliminary data, refine our research questions, and write a manuscript. All of this will make us more competitive for external funding.”

The six ISCE scholar projects and associated faculty include:

For more information on the ISCE Scholars program, visit the ISCE website or contact Yancey Crawford.

-- Written by Yancey Crawford

Share this story