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Human Social Systems Can Push Science Innovations

Posted on Tuesday, February 27, 2024

ARCS Alum Tracks Human Social Science to Inform Change.

Scientific advances depend on more than research in a lab. Innovation also depends on people and their behaviors. Gretchen Engbring PhD is a Sustainability Social Scientist for Stanford University.  “While we often think about scientific advancements as biophysical and technological, (such as driverless cars or carbon capture technology), I hope that the coming decades reveal a wave of social science innovations in fields from political science to psychology,” she explains.

“For example, how can we shift economic systems and consumer culture to be more compatible with environmental health,” Engbring asks. “How can we leverage behavioral and social psychology to combat racism and xenophobia? I firmly believe that the human mind and social systems that we create, and are shaped by, remain some of the most exciting and promising frontiers in science today,” she says.

In her work for Stanford, Engbring leverages key findings, principles, and methodological tools from social sciences to help understand and promote sustainable behaviors among members of the Stanford community. She says her work integrates science and practice by direct research with various communities at Standford, which “directly informs campus sustainability policies, programs and practices.”

She explains: “For example, my team is studying the way that the university community interacts with the campus waste system through surveys, waste tracking, and observational studies. Our findings then help us to design more effective and inclusive communications and waste-related infrastructure that helps the university reduce landfilled waste and related greenhouse gas emissions.”

An ARCS Oregon board member, Engbring is grateful for the ARCS award she received while working towards her PhD at Oregon State University in Forest Ecosystems and Society. “I believe deeply in the ARCS mission,” she says. The ARCS unrestricted funding for graduate students “is absolutely critical given the high costs of graduate education, housing, healthcare, childcare, etc.” She used her ARCS funding to help cover expenses while conducting fieldwork abroad and offered the resources to stay focused on her work.

She values being an ARCS member for the opportunity to meet current scholars.  “I never cease to be amazed and impressed by our scholars,” Engbring says.

By Aletha Anderson