Arts & Sciences

Earth Day, Every Day – a new approach to Brandman social science program

Even when she is inside, Professor Sheila Steinberg is never far from nature, thanks to 3-D artwork.

Even when she is inside, Professor Sheila Steinberg is never far from nature, thanks to the 3-D artwork on her office wall.

Brandman University’s revised Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Sciences could be called Earth Day, Every Day. Like that nearly 50-year-old environmental movement, the newly relaunched program wants students to not just understand the relationship between society and the environment but to come up with data-driven, well-researched ideas for solving challenges in the public, private, educational and nonprofit sectors.

“We wanted to very much take a systems approach,” said Professor Sheila Steinberg, the driving force behind the redesigned program. “We wanted the emphasis to be on the individual as part of a larger society within the context of the physical environment.”

Earth Day tips

  • Be aware. How much of your life is spent inside? If it’s too much, get up and go for a walk.
  • Unplug. Not only does spending your time indoors in front of a screen disconnect you from the natural world, it also can disconnect you from people.
  • Spend time in community. Make Earth Day about talking to your neighbors. It’s our personal connections that will get things done.
  • Engage. Talk to someone with a different viewpoint than your own. Don’t make it political. Do make it a reminder that we’re all connected and part of a larger ecosystem.


Learning about a community’s need for clean water (think Flint, Michigan) could include finding data-based evidence through a multiple of research methods (geospatial and statistical analysis, for example), analyzing existing policies, designing new policies and presenting those new options effectively.

“You can improve people’s lives through good policies,” said Steinberg, adding it’s not a question of left or right. “We all live on Planet Earth. We all use resources. It’s a question of finding balance.”

A personal connection

Sheila Steinberg youth

Sheila Steinberg with her parents in Wilmington, Delaware. The photo was taken for a story about her father and what it was like for new, young executives to move back into the city and work at Dupont.

Steinberg’s own introduction to the role environment plays in human lives started at an early age. Her father is from Mumbai, India. Her mother is from Louisville, Kentucky. Steinberg grew up visiting relatives who lived on farms in Indiana, others who worked in Ford Motor assembly plants and others who lived in the very urban environment of Mumbai. Her childhood in Wilmington, Delaware, and later in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Norwalk, Connecticut, added other dimensions, including how people treated her depending on which parent was with her.

That created an early passion for understanding how people interact with their environment and how the environment can shape their views of the world. Coupling that with an equally great passion for data collection and analysis led her to a master’s degree in forestry at UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in rural sociology from Penn State with a Peace Corps stint in Guatemala in between.

Related story: The power of stories: Steinberg co-edits book on extreme weather’s effect on people

A passion for making a difference

She wants students who select the revised social sciences program to develop their own passion for social science, data analysis, research and making a difference in their communities. The program’s core courses include looking at media and culture, communications, geospatial approaches to society as well as how to develop primary and secondary research while using the latest data acquisition and analysis methods.

Being able to combine both the technical skills needed for data analysis with soft skills such as excellent verbal and written communication should make Brandman students attractive to a variety of employers, said Steinberg. Possible career paths include social services, health, analytics, government, nonprofit and for-profit enterprises, teaching and environmental sciences.

About Earth Day

  • The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970.
  • Grassroots event started by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Based on anti-war teach-ins, the event grew to an estimated 20 million people thanks to participation from “2,000 colleges and universities and additional thousands of communities … involving young and old, liberal and conservative,” Nelson told the Earth Day crowd in Madison.
  • Nelson chose the date to avoid Easter, Passover and college exams. It is also the birthday of conservationist John Muir, whose efforts led to the founding of the Sierra Club and eventually the National Park Service.
  • Earth Day now includes 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries with an estimated billion participants.
  • This year’s Earth Day includes the March for Science rally and teach-in on the National Mall, organized by Earth Day Network and the March for Science.

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