Marlboro College

Academics Kat Rickenbacker - Sociology

 As a faculty member at Marlboro, Kat Rickenbacker hopes to use her experience to develop community-academic relationships that will serve her students, the college, and the community.  Much of her work has focused on engaging low-income communities with the plethora of environmental and climate-related issues that often impact them most directly.  Kat believes in a hands-on approach to teaching sociology, where students are encouraged to undertake independent research projects.  Kat says "I firmly believe that sociologists must have one foot in academia and one foot in the field in order to produce relevant, applicable work, and that students learn best when they're allowed to take ownership of their education."

Teaching Philosophy

Kat notes that threads of inequality and social justice link all her topics of focus.  She says that "my aim as an instructor is to inspire in students a strong capacity for critical analysis, as well as a socially aware world perspective.  In my research, I seek projects that have practical applications and rich theoretical grounding, and strive to help my students develop a similar enthusiasm for interdisciplinary, socially conscious research."

Kat integrates online components into all of her courses, from maintaining an active course page to having students post to an interactive message board as part of their class participation.  She has found that the most memorable learning often occurs outside the classroom, when one applies knowledge to practice.  She aims to send students into the community when possible, to bridge the gap between theory and the 'real world."  In addition, she believes that learning happens most effectively when students feel a sense of ownership with a course, and thus allows students to help shape the syllabus, and incorporates student feedback into the course.

Scholarly Activities

Kat's research interests span the discipline, ranging in scale from small-scale studies of urban greening projects to larger considerations of gender, inequality, and social change. She says that "my primary research interest is the impact that small, community level urban greening projects can have on social networks and the built environment. In particular, I am interested in how fear and desire simultaneously factor into decisions around urban planning, and the conversations and outcomes that arise from these opposing but concurrent discourses. This research ranges in scope from conversations with community members to observation of grassroots organizations, to an examination of the larger social, political and economic structures that impact urban greening projects. This research has applications far beyond the neighborhood, and is crucial in understanding how an environmental justice perspective can be applied to urban redevelopment on any scale."

Kat's interest in community organizations and social change spans beyond her research. For the past several years, she has been working closely with the Massachusetts Climate Action Network on both state and national level policy related to climate change, and on their small-scale grassroots efforts to lower the carbon footprint of various towns and cities statewide. She has a firm commitment to social activism, particularly as it relates to environmental justice. Kate notes that "at the foundation of my research is the interplay of policy and practice – as a research/activist, I believe that pragmatic research which takes into account the realities of community organizing stands the best chance of creating useful, informed policies."

B.A., Smith College, 2004; M.A., Northeastern University, 2007; Ph.D., Northeastern University, 2011; Marlboro College, 2012 -

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