Erin Hamilton: Assistant Professor, Department of Design Studies, School of Human Ecology
Hometown: Sucre Land, Texas
Educational/professional background: PhD in Architecture (Design Studies) and Natural Resources and Environment (Resource Policy and Behaviour), University of Michigan; MS in Design Studies, UW-Madison; BS in Interior Design, University of Wisconsin-Madison; BA in Psychology, Texas A&M University
I join 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 area of research and how did you get there? My research sits at the intersection of sustainable design and environmental psychology, exploring how conservation behavior can be shaped by 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 materialized during my PhD. studies when I worked in a green building that contained a number of interactive educational elements and signage. Although I was quite fascinated by the information conveyed about green building, I wondered if these types of features were effective tools for environmental education and behavior change for other occupants of the building. This initial fascination has now led me to explore how not only does signage shape occupant awareness and behaviors, but how the natural elements of green buildings and how social norms of energy and waste reduction can affect behaviors. respectful of the environment of building occupants.
What drew you to UW-Madison? UW-Madison has always felt like home. I love the collaborative energy within the university, especially within the School of Human Ecology. Living in Madison is an added advantage!
How was your first visit to campus? 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 had planned to apply for graduate studies. I had recently moved from Texas to Wisconsin and remember feeling ridiculously cold that day. My husband took a picture of me on the steps of the SoHE building and I almost refused to show up for the picture because I hadn’t submitted my graduate school application yet and didn’t want the ” to bring bad luck “. However, I am now thrilled to have this first photo and plan to take another photo on these same steps on my first day as a SoHE faculty member.
The pandemic has forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there anything you learned that helped you through these difficult times, personally or professionally? For me, the pandemic has presented many opportunities to focus on mindfulness. In “normal times”, I find it easy to get carried away with worries about the future, especially when I feel like things are out of my control. Rather than letting this worry consume me, I try to focus on my experience of the present moment through meditation and breathing exercises. I think these little practices have helped me get through the past two years.
Do you feel that your work is linked in any way to the idea of Wisconsin? If yes, please describe how. Absolutely. I believe it is a privilege to be able to pursue higher education. With this 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 healthy spaces for people and the planet.
What’s interesting in your area of expertise that you can share that will make us smarter at parties? Did you know that Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors? If you’ve never thought about the impact of the built environment on your behavior, you’ve probably been in spaces where a designer has done a good job of successfully anticipating likely behavior patterns and occupant needs.
Hobbies/other interests: I love reading and Friday night pizza/movie nights with my family.