Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies professor Stephen Kellert received the North American Association for Environmental Education award for Outstanding Contributions to Research on Friday in St. Paul, Minn.
Kellert, whose research focuses on the human need for interaction with the natural world, has served on committees of the National Academy of Sciences and has written over 100 publications. Many of his colleagues said his impressive commitment to environmental education and the scope of his work in environmental studies make Kellert a prime candidate for numerous awards, including his most recent one.
“Dr. Kellert’s research lays a critical foundation for much of the most important work in environmental education,” said Nicole Ardoin GRD ’07, a doctoral student who accepted the award at the conference on Kellert’s behalf. “His continued commitment to exploring the connection between human and natural systems has had enormous implications for environmental education.”
Kellert has researched the biophilia hypothesis, which argues that humans have an innate attraction and need for contact with the natural world, and co-wrote a book on the subject with E.O. Wilson, a well-known environmental scientist at Harvard. He has focused on biophilic design and architecture, which includes designing and planning rooms and buildings that maximize the balance between low environmental impact and aesthetics.
Martin Mador ’71 FES ’02, a research associate who was once Kellert’s student and who now works on the research that Kellert leads, said Kellert is currently using his expertise in this field as the chair of the building committee for the new environment school building, which is still in its early stages. Mador said the idea of biophilic design is to mimic and emulate designs found in the natural world so that people can develop a better connection and attachment with nature.
“We’re trying to develop a building that will be an inspirational model by minimizing the adverse environmental effects and also restoring experiences and connections to nature,” Kellert said. “I think it’s going to be an extraordinary building that Yale will be immensely proud of.”
In addition to working on biophilia, Kellert developed the Mastodon project, a correlation study of biological and social issues, with Yale environmental chemistry professor Gaboury Benoit three years ago. Kellert and Benoit organized a team of experts in a variety of social and biological disciplines to study 18 watersheds in greater New Haven. The researchers sought to take an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand watersheds in the area, Benoit said.
“What was unusual about this study was that we traditionally think of nature as something being harmed by people, which is a negative, one-way relationship,” Benoit said. “We went into it with the thought that there are interactions in two directions. Nature affects people as well, which is what [Kellert] is an expert on.”
Many of Kellert’s colleagues said the wide scope of his research and expertise were a likely factor in the award committee’s decision to present him with this competitive honor this year. According to NAAEE Web site, the award is given to an individual who has shown commitment by conducting, reporting and promoting environmental education research.
“No one has done more in terms of environmental education in the past decade,” said environment school Director of Information and Technology Paul Draghi, who first met Kellert in 1982 on a dissertation committee. “He’s published an enormous amount of work and mentored numerous students. This was a very appropriate recognition for an extraordinary career in environmental education.”