Erin Hamilton, Assistant Professor of Design Studies, joined the School of Human Ecology in fall 2022. This Q&A shares a glimpse into her experiences and research.
Hometown: Sugar Land, TX
• Ph.D. Architecture (Design Studies) and Natural Resource & Environment (Resource Policy and Behavior), University of Michigan
• M.S. Design Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison
• B.S. Interior Design, University of Wisconsin–Madison
• B.A. Psychology, Texas A&M University
I am joining the faculty at UW–Madison after four years as an Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University where I taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the Interior Design program.
What is your field of research, and how did you get into it?
My research lies at the intersection of sustainable design and environmental psychology, exploring how conservation behavior may be shaped through environmental and social cues in green buildings. Even before I knew how to articulate my interests, I was drawn to questions exploring how people are affected by the environments they inhabit. This interest evolved over time but finally coalesced during my Ph.D. studies when I worked in a green building that contained a good number of interactive educational features and signage. Though I was quite fascinated by the information conveyed about the green building, I wondered if these types of features were effective environmental education and behavior change tools for other building occupants. This initial fascination has now led me to explore how not only signage shapes occupant awareness and behaviors, but how natural elements in green buildings and how social norms of energy and waste reduction may affect the environmentally responsible behaviors of building occupants.
What attracted you to UW–Madison?
UW–Madison has always felt like home. I love the collaborative energy within the University, particularly within the School of Human Ecology. Getting to live in Madison is an extra perk!
What was your first visit to campus like?
My very first visit to the UW–Madison campus was in the Fall of 2006 when I made an impromptu stop in Madison to see the School of Human Ecology building, where I planned to apply to graduate school. I had recently moved to Wisconsin from Texas and remember feeling absurdly cold that day. My husband took a photo of me on the steps of the SoHE building and I almost refused to stand for the photo because I had not yet submitted my grad school application and didn’t want to “jinx” it. However, now I am delighted to have that first photo and plan to take a new photo on those same steps on my first day as a faculty member in SoHE.
The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
For me, the pandemic has presented a lot of opportunities to focus on mindfulness. In “normal times” I find it easy to get swept away with worries about the future, especially when I feel like things are out of my control. Rather than let that worry consume me, I try to bring my focus to my present moment experience through meditation and breathing exercises. I think these small practices helped me get through these last two years.
Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?
Absolutely. I believe it is a privilege to be able to pursue higher education. With that privilege comes the responsibility to use our education and skills to improve the communities in which we live. For me that means contributing to the education of human-centered designers who will leave UW to create spaces that are healthy for people and the planet.
What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Did you know that people in the U.S. spend about 90% of their time indoors? If you’ve never thought about how the built environment impacts your behavior, then you’ve probably been in spaces where a designer has done a good job by successfully anticipating likely patterns of behavior and occupant needs.
Hobbies/other interests: I love reading, and Friday night pizza/movie nights with my family.