Announcing three Social Science and Environment Seed Grants


The Institute for Social Science Research and the School of Earth and Sustainability are pleased to announce the winners of this year's Social Science and Environment Seed Grant competition. These SSEN Seed Grant awards totaling $40,000 in new investments will stimulate new scholarly collaborations for innovative research centered on sustainability themes in the social sciences. This year, the SSEN Seed Grant program partnered with the Institute for Diversity Sciences to co-fund one of the grantees at a higher level than either fund could individually support - a model we are excited to introduce in promoting interdisciplinary social sciences at UMass.

The selection committee is thrilled at the range and innovative nature of the three winning grant proposals. These projects engage scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise, including the social sciences, natural and physical sciences, engineering, design, planning and private sector industry. This degree of inter-disciplinary collaboration exemplifies the SSEN commitment to spanning disciplinary boundaries to open new ways of conceptualizing and studying the defining issues of our times. Each project promises to deliver important new knowledge through the seed grant-funded activities in their own right, and provides a two-year plan for how the research project will be continued and further funded through external sources. The grantees will build important new collaborations between faculty across colleges, and strengthen environmental studies with the insights of the social sciences and humanities.

The SSEN Seed Grant program is a biennial competition designed to stimulate new scholarly collaborations for innovative research centered on sustainability themes in the social sciences. These seed grants are intended to support proposals that are not likely to be funded by traditional granting organizations because they are early in development and interdisciplinary in nature. Each of the winning proposals defines a clear pathway to future research, scholarly, or creative and artistic growth of the SSEN network and the social sciences at UMass. The seed grants require that the PIs lead teams of faculty who span colleges at UMass, reflecting the wide expertise in this area of research across the entire UMass campus.
The Seed Grant program is a strategic initiative of the Social Science and Environment Network (SSEN), which ISSR helped to create in 2015. SSEN membership now numbers 100, and this active network draws on support from the School of Earth and Sustainability and ISSR to connect and promote the work of social scientists working on these issues across the University and Five College campuses. To learn more and join the network's Google Groups mailing list, contact Eve Vogel, Assistant Professor of Geography and SSEN Coordinator for 2018-19.

Please join us in congratulating the recipients of the 2019 Sustainability and Social Sciences Seed Grants:

TITLE: Visualizing Hope: Investigating the Effect of Public Art on Public Perceptions of Climate Adaptation - Co-funded by SSEN (supported by ISSR and SES) and IDS

AWARD: $21,977
ABSTRACT: Public art installations may present a model by which to make information about the local impacts of climate change and proposed adaptation solutions visible to diverse audiences, potentially becoming a way to increase public engagement. However, social science research investigating the effect of public art on diverse audiences is highly limited. Even more limited is the display and study of public artworks that simultaneously depict impacts of climate change and proposed adaptation solutions. This proposal seeks to bridge the gap between art, social sciences, and material sciences through the creation of an innovative climate adaptation art installation and concurrent implementation of a robust mixed-methods assessment effort.  The art project, FutureSHORELINE, will bridge material science and landscape art to depict rising temperatures, specific sea-level rise impacts, and solutions for an area along the Fort Point Channel in Boston. The social scientific research project will develop and deploy a rigorous mixed-methods based approach to investigate individual- and neighborhood-level impacts of the installation on climate change adaptation perceptions and engagement. Through a collaboration with the Boston Society of Landscape Architects and the Climate Ready Boston office, this pilot study is intended to develop a reproducible and scalable model of deeply integrated humanities- and social science-informed public engagement efforts around climate change that can be expanded to multiple neighborhoods around Boston (and beyond) in future years. 
Ezra Markowitz, Assistant Professor in Environmental Conservation, College of Natural Sciences and School of Earth and Sustainability
Trisha Andrew, Associate Professor in Chemistry, College of Natural Sciences
Elisabeth Hamin Infield, Professor in Regional Planning, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences

TITLE: Where Do the Benefits of Solar Market Development Go? Distributional Impacts of the Economic Rents from Massachusetts Solar Programs 
AWARD: $12,000
ABSTRACT: The U.S. energy market is undergoing a fundamental transformation due to the increasing penetration of decentralized renewable energy sources like solar and wind. While this transition is desirable on sustainability grounds, it is not clear whether current policies to support renewable energy markets are fostering the social equity opportunities enabled by decentralized energy assets. The goal of this research is to investigate economic and distributional impacts of solar market growth in Massachusetts. To meet this goal, we will estimate the flow of investment and distribution of economic rents across market sectors and market participants in the MA Solar Carve Out I & II programs. We will further examine the welfare implications for households of different income groups and different forms of ownership in the solar market. The results of this study will shed light on the equity and distributional effects of state and federal solar policies and provide insights into the influence of policy structures on the distribution of economic rents. This research will also establish a framework for further research to examine other rapidly growing clean markets, and how federal, state, and local policies can be used to enhance the equity of clean energy development.
Co-PI: Dwayne Breger, Extension Professor in Environmental Conservation and Director of Clean Energy Extension
Industry Partner: Tom Michelman, Senior Director, Sustainable Energy Advantage, LLC

TITLE: Testing the Potential of Sustainable Local Seafood Species for Innovative Value-Added Products in a Changing Climate 
AWARD: $6,000
ABSTRACT: Climate change is challenging the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of New England's seafood industry by increasing costs for fishermen, redistributing fish species, and enhancing imbalance between consumer demand and nature's supply. This multifaceted challenge highlights a need for innovative solutions that bring together ecological, economic, and psychological knowledge to improve decision-making by producers, consumers, and regulators. This project aims to support climate-smart economic decision-making and consumption by developing new seafood products with lesser known yet abundant fish species (i.e., underutilized species) and species that are emerging in the New England region due to warming ocean temperatures. Despite significant knowledge of impacts climate change will have on New England’s fisheries, little is known about consumer preferences for local seafood choices. Funds from this seed grant will strengthen partnering departments' resubmission of a NOAA grant to the Saltonstall-Kennedy (S-K) program in 2019. Before resubmission, several important data gaps must be addressed including identifying 1) consumer behavior regarding seafood, and 2) consumer responses to unfamiliar seafood species. Seed grant funds will be used to execute one survey and two sensory experiments. Results will evaluate which fish species have the most potential with consumers while simultaneously supporting sustainable fishery and climate adaptation goals.
Michelle Staudinger, Science Coordinator, Department of Interior Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Conservation, UMass Amherst
Ezra Markowitz, Assistant Professor in Environmental Conservation, College of Natural Sciences and School of Earth and Sustainability
Amanda Davis, Graduate Student in Environmental Conservation and Founder/Director, Our Wicked Fish, Inc.
Amanda Kinchla, Extension Associate Professor of Food Science, College of Natural Sciences