Brandywine senior uses capstone to study people, psychology and the planet

MEDIA, Pa. — Breath Hand, a senior at Penn State’s Brandywine campus, plans to graduate this fall not only with a bachelor of science in psychology, but also with a double minor in environmental inquiry and civic and community engagement. When she needed a capstone project for her environmental inquiry minor, Hand designed a project that touched on all three of her academic passions: people, psychology and the planet.

“As a psychologist, I have a particular interest in the sciences, and I’m very passionate about environmental issues,” Hand said.

Aided by Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin, Hand circulated a survey of environmental awareness on campus.

“This survey was designed by a collaborative group between George Mason University and the Yale Project on Climate Change,” she said. “Basically, it’s designed for audience segmentation. That means that it would allow us to get a baseline of who’s on our campus and what they think about global warming.”

The survey asked participants to express whether they believe that global warming exists, how concerned they are about the issue and if they have ever taken action to address or discuss it. As a second layer of study, it divided participants anonymously into groups based on their campus roles — students, faculty and staff.

Hand’s efforts yielded 141 willing participants, giving her a sample of the Brandywine campus to study. Some of the results surprised her.

“Forty-seven percent of one category said that it was worried about global warming,” she said, “but when we asked if that same category had ever done anything to address it, 53 percent said ‘never once.’”

The survey and its results, according to Hand, can help direct future conversations about environmental issues on campus.

“I hope it helps us to open a greater dialogue about these things that clearly matter to our community,” she said. “I hope it will solidify our commitment to sustainability programs at Brandywine, too. It’s one thing to have a program created by an organization and another to have a swell of ground support from the students.”

Laura Guertin praised Hand for her commitment to the capstone project, noting that her work displayed both dedication to the minor and sensitivity to the campus community.

“Breath was able to capture how the views of Penn State Brandywine students, staff and faculty differ from the national average,” Guertin said. “That’s a valuable first step in moving forward with how we speak about climate science.”

In the future, Hand hopes to publish the findings of her survey and possibly present at a national conference.