Celebrating 50 years of environmental psychology excellence
The School of Psychology celebrated the 50th anniversary of its pioneering MSc Environmental Psychology on Wednesday 20 September with a special event on Stag Hill campus.
On a night that reflected on past, present and future, there was an impressive turnout of University staff, proud alumni of the programme, former PhD students, esteemed lecturers and honoured guests.
A pioneering programme
People’s relationships with their physical environment are hugely important for people's wellbeing, their thoughts, emotions and their behaviour, as well as for the quality of the environment. The psychological aspects of climate change and environmental degradation are apparent everywhere. But in 1973, the University of Surrey took a step far ahead of its time by setting up the world’s first MSc in Environmental Psychology. The MSc is still unique in the world for its holistic focus on people–environment relationships. Throughout the 50 years the course has taught over 450 students from a range of backgrounds who have gone on to be leaders in the field, making Surrey the ‘headquarters’ of environmental psychology in the UK.
Honouring the past
Professor David Canter, who launched the MSc Environmental Psychology at Surrey in 1973, began the celebration with a history of the creation the programme five decades ago. His foresight laid the foundation for a field that has since had a profound impact on our understanding of the human–environment relationship.
Professor David Uzzell, who ran the MSc Environmental Psychology between 1985 and 2002, paid tribute to past students of the course. He recounted the journeys of some of the many students who have passed through the programme's doors. He spoke of their achievements, their willingness to take risks in their research and the positive change they had brought to the world through their work in environmental psychology.
Keynote speakers: alumni leading the way
The event featured three keynote presentations by former MSc students representing different decades of the programme:
Dr Daniel Iacofano (1978 cohort): Dr Iacofano, now head of the hugely successful consultancy firm MIG in the United States, shared his expertise in designing public places for people. His presentation provided insights into the practical application of environmental psychology principles in creating spaces that enhance the quality of life for communities.
Dr Clare Twigger-Ross (1989 cohort): Dr Twigger-Ross, currently serving as the Principal Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting, highlighted how her MSc and PhD in environmental psychology at Surrey, focusing on place attachment, have informed her policy work on the social aspects of flooding. Her presentation shed light on the essential role of environmental psychology in shaping policies for a more resilient future.
Dr Tony Craig (1998 cohort): Dr Craig, now head of the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences department at the James Hutton Institute, discussed the diverse applications of environmental psychology. He explored its relevance in sustainable wastewater management, prefabricated housing, sustainable housing and public participation in urban design. Dr Craig's presentation showcased the wide-ranging impact of the MSC Environmental Psychology.
Networking and reconnections
The event fostered an environment of networking and reconnections. Colleagues and friends from different eras of the programme engaged in animated conversations, shared anecdotes and made plans for future collaborations.
Looking forward: a commitment to excellence
As the celebration came to a close, the commitment to excellence in environmental psychology was renewed. Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, the current programme leader of the course, emphasised the importance of environmental psychology for understanding complex human–environment relationships and addressing pressing environmental challenges. She highlighted the key values that underpin Surrey’s MSc Environmental Psychology: innovation, leadership and community.
The University extends its gratitude to all who have contributed to the programme's success over the past half-century: faculty, students, alumni and supporters. With their dedication and passion, the next 50 years promise even greater achievements in groundbreaking research, transformative education and positive environmental impact.
This historic celebration marks not only a milestone but also a steppingstone towards a future filled with continued excellence and innovation in environmental psychology. Stay tuned for more updates on the University of Surrey's journey in this field!