Laura Wallace was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH. She graduated from Xavier University in 2012 with an Honors BA in Organizational Communications with Psychology, Environmental Studies, and Business minors. An interpersonal communications course and an environmental theology course her first year at Xavier instilled Laura with a passion for using social science to understand how to engage people in environmentally friendly and socially just behavior and systems. Additionally, she participated in and coordinated the Summer Service Internship, which shaped a lot of her thinking about systemic justice and community organizing. During her time at Xavier, she was one of the inaugural sustainability interns, establishing an annual Recyclemania Competition and week long celebration of Earth Day, as well as working with the cafeteria staff to replace Styrofoam to-go containers with reusable ones. She began exploring the role that psychology could play in helping to understand how to engage people in environmentally friendly behavior. For her Psychology Research Methods II course, she carried out a study on motivations for pro-environmental behavior. Additionally, her senior capstone project proposed a plan for implementing an organizational culture of sustainability.
After going on Xavier’s 12 day study abroad trip to Costa Rica, Laura was intrigued by the country’s commitment to sustainability in their tourism industry. She was curious about what had motivated the commitment to sustainability and whether the industry was truly as environmentally friendly as it seemed.
In January and February of 2013, she traveled to Costa Rica to explore the motivations of tourists, business owners, NGOS, and the government for engaging with the eco-tourism industry. She found that almost everything in Costa Rica is referred to as “eco-tourism,” regardless of how environmentally friendly it is. There are not government-based regulations for labeling a business as green, although there are private certifications available to those businesses that can afford them. Despite that much of the industry is “green-washing,” there are some places to stay and tours that are genuinely environmentally friendly. Many of these are owned and operated by local people who feel a sense of ownership for the land and see the ecotourism industry as an opportunity for employment, while foreign-owned businesses tend to be larger and have less regard for environmental impact, despite a greater ability to invest in certifications. Tourists tended to be from the U.S. or Western Europe, and identified the desire to be in nature as their primary motivation for going on an “eco-vacation.”
After returning from her trip, Laura proposed an itinerary for a Xavier alumni trip to Costa Rica that would feature environmentally friendly and locally owned businesses.
What They're Doing Now
Laura returned to Costa Rica to visit friends and enjoy the beautiful wildlife in the summer of 2013. In the fall of 2013, she started a Ph.D. program in Social Psychology at the Ohio State University, the top program in her field. Her research focuses on persuasion and system change, motivated in part by a desire to help the environmental and other social movements to be effective.