Category: Outreach

The Psychology of Nature


Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition. From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, improved immune system, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. [Source: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature]

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences has blended these wellness findings with the area’s abundance of outdoor activities and endless beauty into its new course – Nature Psychology. The course was developed by Dr. Samantha Smith, CLS assistant professor, with noteworthy contributions from several other faculty at MTU.The new course centers experiential learning and takes an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to helping students explore how our mental experience is connected to the natural environment. 

The course also featured a significant service learning component. In collaboration with Jill Fisher, program manager at the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), the students designed a pamphlet explaining many ways that spending time in nature is good for mental health, physical health, and cognitive performance. The pamphlet will be placed at various KLT trailheads and around the local community. The class also created a family-oriented activity with the aim of getting more people exploring the great outdoors, and the KLT-protected lands in particular.

This year’s course culminated with a weekend nature retreat in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, allowing students to directly experience and reflect on concepts they discussed throughout the semester. The retreat, facilitated by Dr. Smith and Dr. Erika Vye, included hiking, outdoor cooking, nature-themed discussions and crafts, and time for interpersonal connection and reflection.

Complementary Research and Curriculum Development 

In addition to learning about traditional psychology themes, like the impact of time in nature on cognitive performance and mental health, the new course introduced students to a variety of other perspectives on the human-nature connection. Brigitte Morin (BioSci) illuminated the human body’s physiological response to spending mindful time in the natural world, and Dr. Mark Rhodes (SS) led students on an exploration of human geography, political ecology, and what the word “nature” really means. Dr. Chelsea Schelly (SS) engaged students in an exciting examination of environmentally responsible behaviors, and our interdependent relationship with the biophysical world from a sociological lens. Lisa Gordillo (VPA) spoke to some of her own and others’ work at the intersection of art and ecology to facilitate community engagement and conversations about environmental justice and human rights. Dr. Erika Vye (GLRC) introduced students to the importance of varied personal values for geologic features, the wide-ranging connections people have with landscape, and the value of geoheritage as a geoscience communication tool affording place-based learning experiences that nurture our sense of place. Dr. R.J. Laverne (CFRES) shared his expertise on urban forestry, and the consequences of becoming too disconnected from the natural world that we evolved to thrive in.

The takeaways to keep for life

Throughout the course, students gained a greater understanding of:

  • how nature impacts human psychology and physiology,
  • how an understanding of psychology and the human-nature connection can be used to promote positive social and environmental outcomes,
  • how to engage in and promote environmental stewardship efforts and become more environmentally responsible citizens of the Earth.

There’s More

The Nature Psychology course is not the only experiential learning opportunity provided by the CLS department. Course offerings also include Environmental Psychology, where students go outside the classroom to observe psychological principles and practices at play in various real-world settings. For example, during the course, students conduct a walkability survey of Houghton, and conduct a scavenger hunt at the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum to explore the design of educational environments.

In the fall semester, during the Upper Peninsula’s famous “color season”, the department also organizes a “Psych Hike” – a group hike on one of the area’s beautiful trails. This is a great way to calm the mind, move the body, and enjoy time together in nature.  

For more information regarding our Psychology and Human Factors programs, please contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And for the latest happenings, follow us on Instagram @clsmtu or Facebook

Photo credit: Hannah DeRuyter

BASIC Computer Tutoring Resumes at Portage Lake District Library

From WLUC-TV6. Published March 26, 2022.

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) – Since 2018, Michigan Tech University senior Mitchell Eckstrand has come to the Portage Lake District Library to help people in Houghton with computers. It is something he has enjoyed doing almost every weekend.

“If I can do my part to help other people feel more comfortable with their devices or other tasks that they’re doing on their computer, {then} it’s rewarding for me,” said Eckstrand.

These tutoring sessions are part of BASIC, which stands for Building Adult Skills In Computing. For at least 11 years, MTU professors and students have helped community members understand technology.

MTU faculty members Charles Wallace (CS/ICC-HCC, CompEd) and Kelly Steelman (CLS/ICC-HCC) direct the volunteer program.

“Sometimes, it’s questions they don’t know about,” said Chuck Wallace, an Associate Professor of Computer Science. “Sometimes, it’s problems with existing technology. But, we take them on one-on-one and work together with them.”

Saturday, marked the first in-person session in two years.

Besides regular computers, people get help with their tablets, phones, and even Chromebooks.

“Having some Chromebooks here for people who don’t have those is a really great way for people to be able to try out some more portable technology,” said Kelly Steelman, an Associate Professor of Human Factors and Psychology. “So, they might consider whether they want to get something like that for themselves.”

The program also helps those who are anxious about asking technological questions.

“As the pace of technology progresses,” Steelman explained, “it’s more of a common discussion that everybody needs help and will need help at some point.”

Eckstrand says those he and his peers help are not the only ones who learn something new.

“A lot of times, I’ll get questions that I don’t know the answer to, and then we’ll work together to figure out the problem,” he stated. “I learn a lot of things, too that I probably would have never known had I not been involved in this program.”

The BASIC sessions will continue helping others gain technological knowledge until the end of April, before starting again in September. They are open to anyone in the community, and no sign-ups are necessary. The free sessions are on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Portage Lake District Library’s Community Room.

Copyright 2022 WLUC. All rights reserved.

2021 Summer Youth Programs are Open!

Open to students in grades 9 through 11, Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Programs now include an Engineering Psychology and Human Factors Course. Students can experience how psychology and engineering combine to design products, equipment, and systems that improve everyday life. The course will be held from July 11 to July 17.

For more information, click the link here.

Dr. Steelman Guest Blogs about Psychology at Michigan Tech

Dr. Kelly Steelman was invited to be a guest blogger for a website dedicated to promoting the advantages of attending smaller colleges. More specifically, she wrote about why Michigan Tech should be considered if a prospective student is interested in pursuing a psychology degree.

Dr. Steelman highlighted the opportunities and advantages of our CLS department, such as the low student to faculty ratio, the locally based internship program, and the enriching research experiences. Students are given the competitive edge of a large school but with the small school touch. Also, she emphasized Michigan Tech’s unique offering to study psychology and explore its connection to engineering or computer science.

Here is the link if you would like to read the blog post in its entirety.

ACSHF Forum: Monday, January 11

Over the last 100 years, the way we work has changed drastically, transitioning from the early ideas of scientific management by Frederick Taylor to concepts rooted in high organizational agility. Agile, a movement focused on improving the way we work, is one of the movements that has led the way to transforming the way we think about working with people.

During this session, Mark Cruth, a long-time Agile advocate and 2009 Michigan Tech Psychology graduate, will share his experience with Agile and how leveraging intrinsic motivation has positively influencing organizational culture change over the last 20 years. Please join us on Zoom for the presentation on Monday, January 11, at 2 pm. Zoom meeting link.

ACSHF Keynote Speaker – Why Josh Stole the Password: A Decision Neuroscience Approach to Insider Threat in Information Security

Robert West, an Elizabeth P. Allen Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at DePauw University, will be this year’s ACSHF keynote speaker. This event will take place on Monday, February 8th, 2021 at 2:00pm via Zoom. The Zoom link will be released closer to the event.

Abstract:
Cybercrime has a significant impact on nations, corporations, and individuals. Violations of information security can reduce consumer confidence and valuation at the corporate level, and jeopardize social and financial well-being at the personal level. Research in Information Systems reveals that up to 50% of violations or breaches of information security may result from insider threat, reflecting the actions of an individual operating within an organization. Considerable behavioral research has explored the organizational and individual factors that contribute to violations of information security related to insider threat. Building upon this tradition, my laboratory has been interested in exploring the neural foundation of decision making related to insider threat using EEG methods. This research reveals that there are robust ERP components that are sensitive to ethical decision making in the context of information security. Furthermore, this neural activity is modulated by individual differences (e.g., self-control, moral belief) that are known to be predictors of violations of information in real-world context. In the talk, I will explore the findings of some of our recent research in order to demonstrate the utility of a decision neuroscience approach to providing insight into the neural correlates of ethical decision making in the context of information security.

Darnishia Slade Appointed to Michigan Community Service Commission

Darnishia Slade (MS student) has been appointed to a three-year term to the Michigan Community Service Commission, representing fellow experts in the delivery of human, educational, environmental, or public safety services to communities and individuals.

“I am honored to receive this appointment from Governor Whitmer! I am ready to roll my sleeves up and do the work of continuing to make Michigan one of the nation’s leading state service commissions and a model state for volunteerism. I believe that through volunteerism lives are enriched, cultural understanding is exchanged, and lasting partnerships are established,” she said. Congratulations, again, to Darnishia!