About Sarah Ann Coffin

Sarah is an undergraduate student at California State University, Monterey Bay. In fall 2017, she will graduate with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Statistics. After graduation, Sarah plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Social Psychology to further study how psychological concepts can be applied to encourage environmental care. By understanding what encourages individual environmental concern, Sarah hopes to provide communities with effective methods to promote daily environmentally friendly behaviors and overall improved environmental care. After gaining experience in the field, Sarah looks forward to returning to the university system as a professor in psychology.

Clichés from California

My lovely move-in crew to my new home in Monterey.

It amazes me the rate at which humans are capable of adapting. In just one week, I have made the trek from a life on one central coast to the next. I write to you now in California from my new balcony in Monterey. I had a wonderful move-in crew (my family) to help me set up in this new home. In the spirit of a new beginning, I have given myself the allowance to be cliché in reflection with my final blog post.

Oh how I’ve missed the California sun.

This summer has been a challenge. Not only have I learned to engage in interdisciplinary research outside of my normal scope, but I have reformed my ideologies as a person. I am increasingly aware of the social clock, watching all of those I grew up with get engaged, married, and have children. It can be easy to look at these developments of those around you and wonder, “Am I on track?”

From my research perch, all of these things are not yet an option. I am merely focused on my tasks at hand. That being said, this summer’s experience has given me one of the greatest insights into my future ambitions. Though not directly related to my research topics, this internship has caused me to parse out what I want in life from a holistic perspective. I love my career in research. And I want to pursue it.

What a successful summer! Jumping for joy in Astoria, Oregon.

As I begin to pour over my new books, research articles, and course requirements, I feel sentiments of gratitude. Thanks to the skills that I have sharpened this summer, I feel no hesitation to learning new material. After all, if a psychology major can understand the inner workings of national economics and marine policy, then what truly may stand in our way?

I am proud of our work as summer interns. Every REU and Sea Grant scholar I met during my time in Oregon shone bright with potential. I have no doubt that I will encounter them all again, working as colleagues towards a common goal in our appointed fields.

Though I walk away with a certain degree of healthy pride in our overall accomplishments, I believe that humility was one of my own greatest lessons. In being surrounded by such an abundance of remarkable people, I hold a newly found reverence for both passion and intelligence. Even amidst a politically uncertain time, I have hope that those who truly support inquisition and learning will be heard. I walk away from this internship more certain of the importance of research as well as the humble mind that must come with an ever-questioning spirit.

Goodbye Oregon- see you again soon.

Thank you, Sea Grant, for pushing our bounds and asking us to grow. I am leaving this internship a better and more hopeful person than I came. For anyone reading this blog with anticipation, waiting to hear back for next year’s recruitment, I have yet another cliché word of advice. Enter this experience with an open mind in all aspects, whether mentally, physically, socially, or spiritually.

With that, I will leave you. Thank you for reading along with me this summer.

Sarah Ann Coffin



A Few Words of Sentiment

In a flurry of completing my materials for our final symposium, I have sorely neglected my blog. Perhaps it was for the best, as the past few days have brought with them a bright and cheery outlook.

Tomorrow is the big day! By noon my fellow Sea Grant scholars and I will have gathered at the Hatfield Marine Science Center for our final research presentation.

Poster presentation tomorrow from 2:30-3:30pm…wish us luck!

For once my nerves seemed to have checked their bags at the door. Perhaps it is the adequate preparation or simply the brilliant company that makes my mind peaceful in the face of public speaking. It is amazing the degree of familiarity that can be attained amongst peers in only nine weeks. Though I am eager to begin a new semester of classes, I will miss the interactions and relationships I have built here.

Though infrequently mentioned in the recalling of experiences such as this, some of my favorite memories have been those made at home. My roommates are characters.

Women of science.

Upon arriving, I knew I would be surrounded with inquisitive minds, but I did not expect them to be paired with such great humor. From broken hands and workout rants, to an enthusiasm for Game of Thrones like I’ve never seen, my roommates are a blast. Many a night was spent discussing topics both lighthearted and heavy in nature. I am filled with gratitude for the respect each one of them has shown towards themselves and others.

During my undergraduate education, many professors have mentioned challenges women still face in populating the scientific field. Though this may be the case, the strength and confidence with which my roommates and coworkers approach their research is inspiring. It is refreshing to be surrounded by such diligence and enthusiasm.

Years into the future, I am sure we will look back fondly on the days we all packed like sardines into bunk beds in the name of science.

Though I hate to cut it short, it is time to practice presentations! I can’t wait to hear the findings of my peers. I’ve been direly missing statistics. In closing, Oregon is amazing. I can confidently say that I will leave here a better and more well rounded person than when I came.

Day one of my backyard garden.

Day three yielded sprouts!

Day five…at this rate I will see them bloom.

Altruistic Congratulations

There is nothing I love more than a new perspective. My most recent shift came in the form of a text from my best friend Mahala, with whom I’ve been inseparable since junior high school. Knowing that she has always dreamed of starting a family of her own, I was not surprised to open my phone earlier this summer to a text saying, “Sarah, guess what? Tom proposed!”

“’Sarah, guess what? Tom proposed!’”

Quickly thereafter, there were engagement pictures and wedding plans galore. As the weeks have gone by and the examination hundreds of “dusty rose” colored bridesmaid dresses has continued, I have noticed a shift in mentality. In the typical nature of planning ahead, our thinking has become predominantly futuristic.

Perhaps I am ahead of myself, but I cannot help but wonder, “What type of world will Tom and Mahala’s children enter into in the coming years?” As a young adult still in my undergraduate education, this question has (up until this point) been relatively foreign to me.

A bit of reading revealed that I am not alone in my question. The concern I felt for the well-being of my friends’ future children is referred to by literature as altruistic concern (5). Altruistic concern is separate from other types of concern, in that it is motivated by care for others instead of self. This care for others has been shown to inspire action through increased helping behaviors, referred to by the literature as prosocial behaviors (2). 

Prosocial behaviors, such as donating time or funds to a social cause, have an end goal of benefitting others in society (2). With biologically driven survival instincts in mind, prosocial behaviors play a role in preserving the health, well-being, and continuance of the human race.

With subsequent content to appease my social concerns, I then turned to an environmental context. Though research is still sparse, studies have shown that a similar model of concern to behavior has been found towards the natural environment (4,1). According to Stern and Dietz (1994), environmental altruistic concern is the concern one has for nature with others outside of themselves in mind.

For example, an individual with high altruistic concern may wonder, “How can we take care of the environment so that my children/the community/ others can enjoy it?” In a natural resource management context, the question may then become, “How can we conserve these resources to sustain future children/ communities/ others?” 

Environmental altruistic concern has also been shown to lead to an increase in reported beneficial behavioral change, known as pro-environmental behaviors (6). These behaviors include recycling as well as providing donations to environmental causes (6).

Though I have done research on these topics before, never have they been so relevant to me. As I move through this transitional phase of young adulthood, I am reminded that I and those around me are slowly assuming responsibility for the generations of the future. What type of concern will we have towards social and environmental issues? More importantly, will we impart these prosocial and pro-environmental behaviors on the generations to follow? Stay tuned for the answer!

In closing, I would like to congratulate the soon-to-be Tom and Mahala Disney. I love you both dearly. Thank you for bringing personal relevance to my research this summer and reminding me of the importance of applied studies for generations to come.

“I would like to congratulate the soon-to-be Tom and Mahala Disney.”



  1. Berenguer, J. (2007). The Effect of Empathy in Proenvironmental Attitudes and Behaviors. Environment And Behavior, 39(2), 269-283.
  1. Davis, M. H. (2015). Empathy and prosocial behavior. In D. A. Schroeder, W. G. Graziano, D. A. Schroeder, W. G. Graziano (Eds.) , The Oxford handbook of prosocial behavior (pp. 282-306). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
  1. Kim, S., & Kou, X. (2014). Not all empathy is equal: How dispositional empathy affects charitable giving. Journal Of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 26(4), 312-334.
  1. Schultz, P.W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: The effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 391-406.
  1. Stern, P. C., & Dietz, T. (1994). The value basis of environmental concern. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 65–84.
  1. Tam, K. (2015). Mind attribution to nature and proenvironmental behavior. Ecopsychology, 7(2), 87-95.


Conservation, more than just behavior

“What do you think of when you hear the word ‘conservation’?”

What do you think of when you hear the word “conservation”? Do you approach it in the biological sense, as a need for sustainability of resources to continue to survive? Or perhaps see it through a historical lens, with images of colorfully clad activists of the ‘70s with ideals of peace and love?

The word “conservation” is often perceived as politically loaded. With the current debates surrounding climate change (or lack thereof), conservation has become a word that connotes a lifestyle change for many. This lifestyle change can come in a range of forms. A simple example of this would be the California Plastic Bag Ban, which requires multiple-use bags of thicker material to replace single-use plastic bags that cause pollution. This change can also be more complex, such as mass job loss in the coal industry due to the shift towards more renewable energy. In order to understand the ultimate result of behavioral change that occur from embraced efforts towards conservation, it is important to first understand the term.

When discussing the role of conservation in the professional realm, a common thread of education emerges. Though many environmentalists in the workforce aim to conserve different resources, the need for communication and education surrounding why and how to conserve is present for all. Though what constitutes conservation varies across the workforce, conservation will be defined broadly in this blog post as the “ethical use and protection of valuable natural resources”.

Anthropologists, activists, psychologists, and economists from around the world voice the the importance of teaching values rather than the concept of conservation. By communicating values such as respect, care, and responsibility, many professionals believe that individuals are then able to use their own discretion about how to treat natural resources. This makes sense, as it is not enough to teach behaviors (such as recycling) if overarching concepts such as respect and responsibility for maintaining a healthy environment free of pollution are not discussed as well.

When communicating to children in particular, teaching these core values such as respect for nature are easier to learn than countless facts about resource management, as they have already been modeled by human interaction in their families and schools. If a child first learns the deeper value of respect, he/she is then able to apply that concept across situations, including that regarding natural resource conservation. This reverence of core values is a strong tool when acquiring an understanding and providing education to people who all think of conservation and its effects differently.

“Don’t simply teach the ‘how’, teach the ‘why’.”

If you have been reading these weekly blogs, this concept is very similar to our discussion about Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development in my post “A Green Perspective on Rights and Wrongs”. As ethical views develop, children are able to make decisions out of moral judgement instead of simple obedience. Over time, “don’t take cookies from the jar” transforms from a behavioral command to the concept of stealing, an ethically moral wrong. As children shift into adulthood, this ethical train of thought continues to grow, further defining the difference between behaviors and deeper core values. Though not all professionals working towards conservation are child educators, keeping this developmental trend in mind is useful when communicating new concepts to an audience. Don’t simply teach the “how”, teach the “why”. 

Let’s go back to our original question. What do you think of when you hear the word “conservation”? Where did you learn the ideals behind your connotations with the word? Leave your comments in the provided box below. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

In the meantime, below is my photo gallery from the past two weeks. It is not all work here out on the Oregon coast!

Joined in on the sea star wasting surveys with ODFW and the Nature Conservancy last week!

Healthy sea star in the intertidal at Cape Perpetua.

Tamolitch Blue Pool was an incredible sight this past weekend on the OSG camping trip.

This pool was 38 degrees and we all jumped in! Oregon Sea Grant camping trip 2017.

No shortage of water here in Oregon!

Family visit this weekend. Toured lighthouses here in Newport.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse in Newport, OR.

In search of great coastal views? Visit this stone lookout point at Cape Perpetua, one of five marine reserves on the Oregon coast!

Nothing like a little Merlot and a beautiful sunset to end a perfect weekend.

“So it goes.”

So it goes. Vonnegut’s wise words have followed me to the southern coast this weekend for my first work trip out in the field. For the past few days, Oregon State University graduate Katie and I have visited over one hundred houses in attempts to administer surveys. Our goal in this study is to assess quality of life, well-being, and attitudes of residents towards marine reserves on the Oregon Coast. The results of this study will then be provided to researchers, community leaders, and policy makers to inform decision-making.

Katie Williams (OSU) and Sarah Coffin (OSG) on the Coos Bay survey administration trip on July 15, 2017.

As we are still in the pilot study phase of our research, we anticipated a few hiccups as we continue to hone in to the balance between strong methodology and realistic limitations. As expected of any applied research study, many things have in fact gone awry. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the redeeming cup of coffee that sits in front of me as I write.

City map planning at So It Goes coffeehouse in Coos Bay, Oregon.

In my mind, a research project has many similarities to a relationship. It has its high and low points – all of which are testaments to the development of a rewarding finished product. Though low points are not typically glamorized, I find them just as constructive both for the growth of myself as a researcher as well as for my project. Introspection at this time is often a necessity. In attempts to juggle four projects, I’ve found myself mildly overwhelmed by this relationship. So it goes.

In addition to reflection specific to my daily work, this internship has provided me with a glance into future directions. With graduation from my undergraduate program nearing this fall, I am now faced with the question: “Do I want a Masters degree or a Ph.D.?” More importantly, “Am I ready for this?” I feel fortunate to be surrounded by advisors with both professional and academic degrees who have shared their experiences with me. Amongst all of their stories, I have noted a common theme of sacrifice.

An old friend once told me that, “you get out of it what you put in to it”. His words stay with me now as I mull through the decisions in front of me. Though my end results in research have always been exceedingly rewarding, I now strive to find a balance between my academic and personal goals. Perhaps my next step is to go abroad and travel. Perhaps it is to apply to schools. No matter my choice, I am thankful to be part of a program that challenges my perspective and encourages frequent spurts of growth. There is nowhere I would rather be than here. So it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut.


A Green Perspective on Rights and Wrongs


In the early 1950s, graduate student Lawrence Kohlberg became inspired by the works of a clinical psychologist named Jean Piaget. With the help of Piaget’s foundational theory, Kohlberg proposed a series of six stages that would one day be taught in every introductory psychology course. If you have taken one of these courses, you know that this theory was a key component to what we now know as moral development.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

According to Kohlberg, children progress through stages that indicate growth in their moral development. At a young age, thought processes reflect the question, “How can I avoid punishment?” As children develop, the desire to avoid negative consequences morphs into recognition of universal ethical principles. Hitting others is no longer bad because it results in a “time-out”, but because a human being has the right not to be harmed unjustly.


Aldo Leopold

Though we are traditionally taught that Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning is specific to psychology and child development, similar discussions of moral reasoning have already occurred surrounding the conservation of natural resources. In his 1949 nonfiction A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold argued that, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

By bringing ethics into human involvement with nature, the conversation begins to change. Instead of seeing nature as a human resource, it becomes an entity worthy of respect. In this mindset, trees are no longer meant to make paper. Water is no longer meant to spring from our sinks. It is simply right to preserve nature out of connection and respect. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Realistically, it is unavoidable to use natural resources for human benefit. However, the mentality in which we approach that utilization is key in influencing behavior. If we allow for input from an ethical perspective, our treatment of the world around us can then stem from one of deeper respect.

This week, I challenge you to assume a perspective of Leopold and Kohlberg when you look outside. Make note to yourself; do you feel a shift in respect? Respond to this blog post at the end of the week and let me know!


The Value of Human Interaction

Port Orford

Neal and Zach perfecting the ODFW sign at the Port Orford barbecue on June 25, 2017.

This week was a testament to the value of human interaction. We began our escapades at the dock of Port Orford in southern Oregon. Three coolers of burger patties, rockfish, and Coca-Colas later, we had ourselves a barbecue! After a mad dash for pastries and slaw, the Marine Reserves team from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) gathered together to talk with local fishermen. Over burgers, I heard the story of one couple that I found especially exceptional.


Michelle and her husband were new to Port Orford and happened to be out on the sea for the day. When they returned to the dock, they saw our gathering and stopped by. Having recently retired, Michelle found herself reaching out to the community to begin to engage and meet others around her. She shared that it was odd to go to the grocery store and not hear a single hello or partake in a conversation with a neighbor, as she once had experienced in her hometown in California. As we chatted, I found hope in her story. Through her love for nature and concern for ocean preservation, Michelle found friendships within our tent. I watched as a group of people breached social barriers and connected in their mutual interest in science, food, and marine conservation.

Sarah and Jaqui at the Port Orford barbecue on June 25, 2017.

Later that night as we gathered for science at the pub, I saw Michelle once again. After a few rounds of scientific bingo and facts about rockfish, Michelle introduced me to her husband. They informed me that they had signed up as volunteers and would now be involved with the Redfish Rocks Community team, working towards ocean preservation. I left Port Orford the following day with a pleasant reminder that social science and human interaction plays an important role in the natural sciences and conservation.


Flag from the Port of Garibaldi on June 27, 2017.

What was that count again? Over 100 people showed up at our Garibaldi barbecue! There wasn’t a moment to spare between wrapping fish boats and restocking patties as our grill master cooked up a storm. Once again the significance of communication was the spotlight of our event, as fisherman and community members shared with us their thoughts on the marine reserves. As you may recall from my last post, the focus of this summer is to study the socioeconomic effects that the implementation of marine reserves may have had on surrounding fishing communities. This event was the ideal example of varieties of feedback, valued equally in an open space. By encouraging communication of all kinds, we are able to better balance preservation efforts with human need for resources. As I am learning repeatedly this summer, resources continue to be limited as populations grow. Whether addressing economic or marine preservation topics, finding an equilibrium is key in creating effective change.

Humbug Mountain State Park

Humbug Mountain State Park.

Did you know that people who frequently experience a sense of awe report higher life satisfaction? Though this fact may seem obvious, it can easily be overlooked. Humbug Mountain State Park boosted my life satisfaction by miles.

Sparse pink flowers in the sunlight.

The variety of ferns, mosses, and trees kept me constantly amazed. Perhaps I was a botanist in another life. I’d like to close this week by sharing photos from our hike. Seeing this kind of beauty makes it difficult to keep experiences all to yourself.

Photo by Neal Tyson.

Until next time, Sarah Ann Coffin


Subjective well-being: What’s the worth?

Let’s Begin with an Exercise…

Look up from your screen and observe the things around you.

As I do so myself, it is not difficult to estimate the market value of the couch, rug, and even the land on which my cabin resides. If I were to have a yard sale tomorrow, each item could be priced with a bright orange sticker for potential buyers to assess and purchase.

“…it is not difficult to estimate the market value…”

Many appraisals of worth, similar to those that we just assigned our surrounding items, are based on the ideals supported by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Each object has a market value, which fluctuates with condition, use, and personal necessity for that thing. On a national level, our country’s resources can be assessed and quantified as Gross National Product (GNP). Simply put, everything that can be used has a worth.

“Subjective well-being: overall quality of life”.

As rational as the ideas of Gross Domestic and National Product seems, this system of assessment is flawed. Now that you have looked at the items around you, indulge me in a bit of introspection and think back to one of your happiest moments.

How do you place a value on that time? By GDP and GNP’s standards, there is no market value for the scene you just pictured or the feeling of satisfaction you may feel upon reflection. Your happiest moment can instead be categorized under a non-market (or non-use) value. Though you cannot assign a price to it, that instant of happiness adds merit to your life and increases your subjective well-being, or quality of life.

In his 1968 address to the University of Kansas, Robert Kennedy encompassed this idea of non-market value best in saying,

Robert Kennedy on Gross National Product (GNP)

“…gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Often our most valued moments are those that have no market value. This week, I have begun to delve into the literature surrounding subjective well-being (SWB), which I previously alluded to as our overall quality of life. This concept of SWB can be applied in a natural setting as well, despite our attempts to place monetary value to resources such as land, water, and forests. Though these aspects of nature are factored into our GNP, there is an element of worth that we cannot account for with simple market value. For example, many people will donate to rainforest conservation funds even though a large portion of those donors will never set foot in the rainforest themselves. The worth lies in the existence of the forest instead their use of that land.

Oregon Marine Reserves (image by Oregon State Parks).

This summer I am studying subjective well-being surrounding the protection of marine areas on the Oregon coast in the form of five marine reserves. Through administration of survey instruments tailored to our nearby fishing communities, I am working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the economic and non-market values of these marine areas. Through the use of choice experiments, we aim to gain a more in depth understanding of the subjective well-being of residents in Oregon coast communities as they relate to forest and marine preservation.

I won’t disclose all of the “good stuff” yet, but stay tuned to this blog. I will be updating weekly with photos, articles, and summaries of my time here.


~Sarah Coffin~


Author and Oregon Sea Grant Scholar Sarah Coffin at Owen Rose Garden in Eugene, Oregon in June, 2017.