As a kid growing up in Michigan, I learned to value and respect the natural environment. These early values led me to study climate change as an undergraduate student at Roanoke College in Virginia where I also started a campus tree planting program. I wrote urban forest and natural resource management plans as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, and I participated in a massive, state-wide inventory of natural areas for the State of Illinois while working as a environmental consultant. These experiences taught me that, while the science was often sound, political differences and conflict stood in the way of progress, so I became interested in how planning and policy-making processes addressed disagreement and worked to improve the environment.
I study the science and politics of environmental planning by analyzing how people think about ecological systems as they make plans and propose new policies. My research agenda has three components. First, I investigate the cognitive aspects of practical environmental judgments in participatory settings to observe how stakeholders learn to make better plans. Second, I research the role that data visualization tools play in supporting planning processes. Finally, I explore how professional facilitators help local stakeholders improve planning and policy outcomes. I've studied regional wastewater planning on Cape Cod, water supply planning in the Chicago region, community green infrastructure planning in urban neighborhoods, and stakeholder learning in community engagement processes.
Community engagement is the foundation of my work as a scholar and instructor. I believe in conducting research that produces immediate benefits for my community partners. I have cultivated relationships within the community to develop research projects that address their immediate needs, and in this way, I have developed a research program that has supported community-level efforts to promote sustainability and resilience in places like Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois. I also build community partnerships to cultivate meaningful, applied learning experiences for students in my courses. My students have worked with community leaders throughout the Continental United States helping communities address their unique challenges.