Campus Institute of Diversity Sciences Awards Seed Grants

Left to right: Krista Harper, Erin Baker, Matthew Lackner and Anna Goldstein
Left to right: Krista Harper, Erin Baker, Matthew Lackner and Anna Goldstein
Left to right: Paige Warren and Nathan Chan
Left to right: Paige Warren and Nathan Chan
Left to right: Mark Pachucki and Nicole VanKim
Left to right: Mark Pachucki and Nicole VanKim

Three faculty-student research teams on campus have received seed grants of up to $12,000 each from the Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) – a consortium across UMass and the Five Colleges – “to encourage multidisciplinary research that strives to solve important equity-related problems through science and engineering research,” director Nilanjana Buju Dasgupta announced this month.

Krista Harper, anthropology, with Erin Baker, Anna Goldstein and Matthew Lackner of mechanical and industrial engineering, have teamed up to explore, as cities and towns move toward energy efficiency, how community members’ opinions about fairness, access and electricity pricing affect their electricity consumption behavior. They will use simulation games to understand public deliberation on energy transition and environmental inequalities and examine how these drive individual energy choices. They will build a partnership between the UMass Energy Transition Initiative and the Holyoke Energy Transition Coalition. The IDS grant will support the development of a larger interdisciplinary project through funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Paige Warren of environmental conservation and Nathan Chan of resource economics will use the IDS grant to examine questions about the relation between access to biodiverse urban spaces and human well-being. Answers greatly affect policymakers’ action to enhance access to urban nature. Warren and Chan explain,“Street trees, parks, waterways, and other pockets of urban nature are the primary places where people in cities have access to biodiversity. But in many cities, only the wealthiest residents have access to urban nature that is high in biodiversity.” Their project will quantify the value of urban biodiversity for human well-being and ways that access inequities contribute to well-being inequalities. Analyzing large nationwide datasets, they plan to submit proposals to NSF to address inequities in urban climate mitigation efforts.

Mark Pachucki, sociology, Nicole VanKim, biostatistics and epidemiology, Ph.D. students Richard Carbonaro and Nicole Fields, with others at Tulane and Emory universities, plan to assess how chronic stress related to exposure to the criminal justice system is associated with biological aging. They point out that chronic stress is a critical social determinant of racial and ethnic disparities in morbidity and mortality. Yet, the how social and biological pathways of chronic stress evoked by the criminal justice system contributes to health risks in later life have not been fully examined, particularly at the cellular level. Pachucki and Kim will use data from a longitudinal study of Black women to examine the prospective association between reports of police discrimination and chronic stress at the cellular level. They note that by examining the biological ramifications of police discrimination, they hope to provide further evidence for the need for police reform and to inform health interventions in Black communities.

IDS’s annual grants promote equity-inspired research with real-world impact. Team projects bring together faculty and students and promote mentored team research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students. Its next call for proposals will be Fall 2020 and due in on March 1, 2021. During the academic year, IDS also hosts monthly research group meetings on learning, health and climate change.