Social Science Research Scholar, Research Staff - Other
Dr. Mele Wheaton is the senior research scholar in the laboratory of Prof. Nicole Ardoin. Her research interests include learning in out-of-school contexts, pro-environmental behavior, and nature-based tourism. As lead on a variety of projects, Mele has studied behavior change in ecotourists in Galapagos and California, environmental identity and action in high-school students participating in an intensive conservation education program, and professional development in environmental educators.
Mele is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Education and Woods Institute of the Environmental at Stanford University. She manages an international research project, Facilitating Pro-environmental Behavior: Leveraging Nature-based Tourism into Everyday Stewardship, which is one of a select number of Environmental Venture Projects funded by the Woods Institute Environmental Ventures Program. The interdisciplinary research team includes Stanford faculty and researchers from the fields of Education, Psychology, Anthropology, and Persuasive Technology. The research examines ways to foster pro-environmental behavior following tourist visits to well-known parks. Capitalizing on the untapped post-trip spike in motivation shown by visitors in park settings, the team is developing and testing technology-based platforms to translate stimulated interest in the environment, ecology, and natural history into specific environmental behaviors. A small-scale pilot intervention was conducted in partnership with California’s Año Nuevo State Park, known for its marine wildlife experience, followed by a larger-scale intervention in the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mele holds both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she concentrated on environmental education and informal learning. Mele’s dissertation research examined high school students' experiences of conservation science as they participated in a year-long environmental science program that partnered their school, a world renowned aquarium, and scientists working in the local community. Mele is particularly interested in education in under-served communities and how to better bridge the gap between scientific research and environmental education. Mele is a former fellow of both the NSF-funded Center for Informal Learning and Schools and the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation for environmental leadership. She is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Before graduate school, Mele taught for eight years in a variety of informal education settings in Alaska, Arizona, and California. In addition, Mele worked as a field biologist conducting botanical surveys and studying nesting bald eagles.