For centuries, humans have thought about design aesthetics and functionality — how things look and how they work. But new research shows that environmental factors — such as neighborhood layouts, the interior design of health facilities, and noise levels around schools, to name a few — influence human health. Faculty, students, and staff at the College of Human Ecology are working at the forefront of this exciting field and making connections between the built environment and psychology, health care outcomes, child development, and health care delivery. Their research is helping to create environments that promote physical activity, support child education, build the health care facilities of tomorrow, and improve hospital patients’ experiences.
at the college of human ecology
engaging students William “Carlos” Higgins aspires to make the built environment more comfortable and sustainable through research. The Design and Environmental Analysis major participated in Human Ecology's summer research immersion program, where he conducted sustainability case studies of two Cornell buildings to determine how users respond to the indoor environment. The research built on his previous work with Ying Hua, assistant professor in Design and Environmental Analysis. Higgins surveyed occupants and took temperature, humidity and light readings to determine how satisfied users were with the indoor environment, and whether they felt the conditions supported their work. His research is contributing to a larger project to develop software that will help facility managers make better decisions about how to retrofit buildings to save energy and money. “Doing this type of research definitely changed my future plans,” Higgins said. “When I first came to Cornell, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into the business world or pursue academics. Now I feel I definitely want to pursue research for my career, whether that be in the corporate or academic realm.”
in human ecology
The environment as a source of stress Environmental psychologist Gary Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Design and Environmental Analysis and Human Development, investigates how the physical environment affects children, especially those living in poverty. Evans’ research has demonstrated that growing up poor is hazardous to a child’s physical and emotional well-being, and those hazards can continue in adulthood. Following a group of children for nearly 20 years, he has shown that the environment of poverty leads to chronic stress, lower academic achievement, and memory deficits. Also, children who grow up in noisy environments, regardless of income, are more likely to have reading deficits. Evans also conducted research using MRI technology to demonstrate that growing up poor creates changes in the areas of the brain that regulate emotions.
Uncovering environmental factors in health problems Associate Professor Nancy Wells – of the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis – studies people’s relationships with their environments, including the impact of nature on cognitive functioning, the influence of neighborhood design on physical activity, and the effects of housing quality on psychological well-being. Her work has found that many health problems affecting the U.S. population — from psychological distress, to heart disease, and diabetes — have significant environmental causes. As part of the Engaged Learning + Research Faculty Fellowship Program — a university-wide initiative to help faculty members engage the Ithaca community — Wells teaches a course where students will partner with community organizations to improve public health.
A design perspective for health care leaders The Sloan Program in Health Administration — a graduate program that prepares students to become the next generation of health care leaders — incorporates design in its curriculum, a unique attribute that sets the program apart from other health management degrees. Sloan students have the opportunity to take classes on health facility design and apply these emerging concepts in real-life settings. Rana Zadeh, an assistant professor in Design and Environmental Analysis, teaches design classes that encourage a multidisciplinary dialogue about health care environments, medicine, policy, and engineering. In her class, students engage with patients, community members, staff, leaders, and other stakeholders on projects that improve the delivery and effectiveness of health care in facilities and at home. Brooke Hollis, executive director of the Sloan program, teaches “Fundamentals of Health Facilities Planning for Managers and Entrepreneurs.” Students also work on design and facility improvement projects at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca and Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
at the college of human ecology
Merging hospitality and health care As our health care system evolves, we need new solutions to improve quality, develop new efficiencies, and contain costs. Human Ecology is partnering with the School of Hotel Administration to launch the Cornell Healthy Futures Institute, one of the first institutes in the country to bridge the fields of hospitality, design, policy, and management to improve health care, wellness, and senior living. The institute includes faculty from the departments of Design and Environmental Analysis, Policy Analysis and Management, and the Sloan Program in Health Administration. Among the faculty members is Design and Environmental Analysis Professor Mardelle Shepley, a practicing architect who specializes in the design of health care facilities. The institute will offer an innovative curriculum, fund broad research collaborations, and build alliances with industry to understand how policy, design, and administration can influence the future of health care service delivery, management, and sustainability. The institute will also engage a network of professionals and researchers from health care and hospital management, senior living facilities, hotel and travel organizations, insurance companies, and others to apply research in real-world settings and enrich the student experience.
a broad look into the future Understanding the relationship between design and health care is growing more important. At Cornell, a collaborative culture encourages design experts, social scientists, and health care experts to connect across disciplines to research, discover, and share their solutions with the world. As Cornell celebrates its sesquicentennial anniversary, now more than ever, support for this type of interdisciplinary work is essential. With a plan in place to recruit more faculty, staff, and students, high-impact collaborative research will continue to yield important knowledge — fostering innovative research and revolutionary discoveries to improve life for all. You can find more information about the university’s campaign to support these efforts — called Cornell Now — at http://now.cornell.edu/.
Improving lives by exploring and shaping human connections to natural, social, and built environments www.human.cornell.edu DRAFT 2015.03.26 Issue