Four projects that focus on significant issues facing the world today have been selected to receive funding from the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE) through its signature Scholars program.

This new cohort of scholars, representing four colleges and nine departments, is poised to tackle challenging questions related to the global health agenda; water quality and conservation practice; mental workload and worker stress and the impact of restorative natural environments on mental wellbeing; and risk and resource management. 

Support from the Scholars program will allow the investigators to collect preliminary data and hone their research methodologies as they lay the groundwork for a large-scale study. “One of the key components of the ISCE Scholars program is its focus on preparing faculty to compete successfully for external funds to support their research program,” said Karen Roberto, executive director of the institute. 

In addition to providing up to $30,000 to each team to refine their research protocols, ISCE also offers technical assistance and mentoring for the scholars as they submit grants to funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and private foundations. 

Stephanie Smith, associate professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy and one of the new ISCE Scholars, will analyze which health concerns are on the global health agenda, a list of pressing health problems that receive a greater share of attention and resources than others in important global arenas. 

For the past few months, the world’s attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad challenges facing world powers and lower income countries alike. It is a good bet that the global health agenda is now focused squarely on the crisis. Prior to the pandemic, however, most people may not have even been aware that there is a global health agenda. 

According to Smith, “The agenda status of high-burden health problems as diverse as HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, and addiction affects global population health through its influence on public policy and broader patterns of resource allocations.” She is studying how these and other health issues are identified, defined, and subsequently compete for resources within a set of arenas that includes international agencies, aid structures, civil society, media, industry, and scientific research.

Stephanie Smith, associate professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy, and one of the new ISCE Scholars.
Stephanie Smith, associate professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy and one of the new ISCE Scholars. Photo courtesy of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment.

Smith will use interviews and archival data to answer questions about which health issues are high and low on the list and whether the agenda has changed over the years. 

“The study will help form the foundation for a larger effort to define and measure the global health agenda across a range of critical arenas and to better understand the implications for policymaking within countries,” Smith said. 

A study such as Smith’s may be even more relevant now that the novel coronavirus pandemic has focused the world’s attention and political, social, and economic resources on one health issue. 

“Although COVID-19 has certainly captured everyone’s attention, there are still pressing health concerns that need to be prioritized and addressed. ISCE is pleased to fund this study which can help political and philanthropic leaders as well as social scientists and policy makers better understand what these critical health issues are and how to best address them,” said Roberto. 

The four 2020-21 ISCE Scholar projects and associated faculty include: 

- Written by Yancey Crawford