Sonia Merkel

OU Major: 
Environmental Sustainability
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Angela Person
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
My research seeks to understand the social and cognitive barriers which impede effective climate change risk communication in our country. I conducted a series of focus groups comprised of University of Oklahoma students and Oklahoma residents in which participants were asked to view a series of 10 evocative images and engage in a discussion on each image. During analysis of the transcriptions, three themes emerged. First, participants express a greater sense of urgency when events are perceived as both new and local. Conversely, participants were less concerned when events were perceived as local and normal. Second, a sentiment of “tacit blame” was commonly expressed by participants when a technological solution was cognitively accessible, but the participant was unsure of how to help. Third, fear based messaging appears to be less effective in motivating participants toward pro-environmental behavior than a hopeful, solution based message.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
Over the course of my nearly year-long research, I have learned the importance of scheduling your day around your research. Finding a routine which supports your most creative and a productive time is very helpful with keeping from falling behind. Additionally, finding a rhythm in reading papers related to your topic, while also maintaining focus on the central them can be challenging. It is easy to become overwhelmed with information, my project alone could have been taken in three or four directions. When I became distracted by something interesting or a new tangential topic, I tried to step back from my work, and just jot down the thought to get it out, re-read some of my earlier papers related to my topic, and then come back to my current project. Finally, make sure whatever you are researching is something that genuinely reflects your interest. It is easier to work on your project when it is something you enjoy.
Awards and/or presentations: 
My research was presented at the Spring 2017 Curiosity Symposium. I have received two financial awards which helped support my research. First, I received a position as one of the University of Oklahoma Undergraduate Research Scholars for the spring semester. Second, my research project was accepted as part of the Oklahoma NASA Workforce Development Research Assistant program, which provided me the opportunity to continue my research over the summer of 2017.