10 Questions with Associate Professor Ray De Young

Originally published: 
April, 2017

Raymond De Young, PhD, serves as an Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology and Planning at SNRE. He is also an Associate Professor in LSA's Program in the Environment (PitE), a Faculty Associate at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, and Faculty Affiliate for the Graham Sustainability Institute. 

 1. Nicole Rom (MS ’04) asks: Given the politics of rural resentment and what we know about how people voting in ways that doesn't align with their personal interest - what should we be doing differently in our communications with voters especially in regards to environmental issues such as climate change?

I think that the rural resentment, or the “politics of resentment,” might be the result of not being listened to. They had a voice, but it's not the same voice that others had. It was made fun of for a long time, and could be dismissed very easily. That's got to create resentment. And now they might be unwilling to listen to some of us because they’ve been treated so poorly.

So maybe it’s not about how we should talk differently, but how we should listen differently—so we actually hear people. That stage may take a long period of time, not just days, but actually years, of learning to listen to people.

The stakes are so high that we can't get it wrong. We're not going to get a second chance to save the planet. So if we haven't been listening, that's probably the place to start.

2. Ryan Whisnant (MS/MBA ’10) asks: Your courses cover a lot of material on how practices like time in nature and mindfulness can support a person's well-being. If there's one daily practice that you'd recommend or that you've found effective in your life, what would it be?

At least ten minutes, every single day, of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). The particular form of mindfulness practice probably doesn’t matter but the regularity is crucial. There’s a great saying: “If you think you have time for mindfulness practice then you can spend ten minutes a day at it. But if you don’t think you have enough time for it, then you need to spend an hour.”

3. What led you to pursue your career?

I come from a family of engineers. My grandparents, uncles, and my father were engineers. I have cousins who are engineers, and our family friends were mainly engineers, technicians, or machinists. So I didn't have a choice. I was going to be an engineer, and in fact I did pursue engineering.

But my good fortune has been that I have had multiple careers. I was actively engaged as a mechanical engineer, then as a civil engineer, and eventually became a consulting environmental engineer. Then I got more involved in what slowly morphed into planning and became interested in what we now call urban and rural planning—not big cities, but villages, suburbia, and the ex-urban areas. That prompted me to come back to school to pursue urban and regional planning.

Then I got a wonderful opportunity when my two mentors drew me into the field of environmental psychology. And in the process of working at SNRE, I helped to form the field called “conservation psychology.” So, I've certainly made the move from a very strong mechanical view of the world to the behavioral sciences.

It’s interesting. As an engineer, you think as an engineer, and I was in a family that planned things. So, of course, when I was young I began planning my life—where I would live, what I would do, and how I would spend my spare time.

But I know for certain that if I had lived the life I planned, it would have never turned out as glorious as it has. There's something wonderful about taking this different walk through life, and following the opportunities that people offer you.

4. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Strangely enough, I wanted to be a farmer. One of my uncles had some rural property. I love the daily patterns of farm life.

5. Can you name someone you consider a hero/heroine?

My heroes and heroines would have to be my great grandparents and my grandparents. They immigrated to this country with not a cent in their pocket, but they kept the families together through the Depression, and kept a really positive attitude—always telling their stories with humor. In fact, they struggled much harder than my parents did, and yet I think their lives were actually happier because they had a greater appreciation for what they had, and they certainly enjoyed it more.

I remember picnics with my grandparents, and how they would make a big deal about it—even though these were really simple picnics: sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and that was it.  But my sister and I would get ready for the picnic with them all morning. They were always able to take pleasure in very, very simple things. I think that their view of life led to the work I do now—trying to get people to live simpler lives.

6. What’s the best piece of advice that someone ever gave you?

I can't think of any one thing that someone said. It's been more about these invitations people have offered me over the years. There were times when I was just going along and things were getting stale, and somebody said, “Hey, why don’t you try this?" Or, “maybe you can contribute something to this project.” It’s as if there's always been this wonderful leadership from other people at the right times in my life.

7. What was your first job?

Growing up, my first unpaid job was fixing things. In my engineering/machinist family, we were always asked to fix things, so we were always taking things apart, and putting them back together. So from a very young age, I remember having grease on my hands, and carrying my toolbox everywhere I went.

I guess it’s not surprising that my first paying job was working in a Fix-It Shop. People would bring in their toasters and their radios and their vacuum cleaners and their small television sets. The guy who ran it was a volunteer fire department guy, so every time he had to go out on a fire, I was left alone. Actually, I was only a freshman in high school, and far too young to be running the store myself.

One of the funny things was that every time the storeowner and I didn’t know how to fix something, I asked my relatives, and they’d say, “Oh, that’s easy,” and tell me how.

8. Name a place in the world that you’d most like to visit for the first time.

I guess the places I'd like to visit most are the villages or cities that my great grandparents came from. Most of my family was Dutch, so they were primarily in Holland and a few other parts of Western Europe.

I’ve often wondered what it was like to live there 100, or 150 years ago. I'd love to see the kind of ebb and flow of their daily life pattern back then. I imagine they worked all the time, but when they had time off, what did they do with it, or when they had a birthday, how would they celebrate it?

My wife and I are not big travelers, so I doubt that we would actually go back to those European villages. But for me, it’s really about imagining going back in time, more than in place.

9. What is your favorite outdoor activity?

It's gardening. It's always been gardening since I was as young as I can remember. That's my great joy. Come the sun and warmth of spring, that's where I want to be.

10. What’s the most used app on your phone?

That would be the “Do Not Disturb” app, the one that I use to turn everything off in the evening, and to turn everything back on in the morning, probably later than I should. But my phone is always charged because it's never with me unless I'm actually sitting at my desk. It's not part of my life.