A Pitzer alumna wields her cognitive science major, study abroad experience, and commitment to social justice to make the digital narrative more inclusive.
Is social media our society’s downfall—or a tool for change? Pitzer College alumna Grace Greene ’20 believes in the latter. As a research associate at the social innovation lab and impact investor Hopelab, Greene combines behavioral science and technology powered by and for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ youth.
“There are many great ideas that are rooted in communities of color and LGBTQ+ communities,” said Greene. “How can we make technology more inclusive with these voices, and how can we increase access to products that help all young people thrive?”
Social media as social impact
Hopelab focuses on technology that provides mental health support for youth from marginalized communities. In 2020, Hopelab collaborated with Common Sense and the California Healthcare Foundation to survey more than 1,500 people, ages 14 to 22, about digital technology. More than one in five reported that social media was important for receiving support, feeling less alone, and expressing themselves.
Of course, social media is a double-edged sword. The survey also indicated that one in four young people have often encountered online hate speech. Despite that, Greene emphasized that “Gen Z is making strides to manage and improve mental health by being creative, vulnerable, and supportive.”
Greene counts herself among that number. When she had to abruptly leave Pitzer because of the pandemic, she discovered TikTok as a refuge to share experiences and find joy. Meanwhile, Greene started her dream job at Hopelab, where she could apply her cognitive science major and her passion for racial and social justice.
“I bridge research and human-centered design to create a social impact framework and community-centered approach to technology,” said Greene. “I’m a listener of stories. I capture feedback from young people in a way that is effective for us and our partners and for young people to have a positive experience.”
Greene is proudest of Hopelab’s development of imi, a tool for LGBTQ+ youth to explore their identity and learn positive coping skills. Greene engaged in user and content research to ensure representation from hundreds of LGBTQ+ teens, focusing on BIPOC, transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming youth. imi received the 2023 Gold Anthem Award in the health category from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
“I grew not just as a researcher but as a person,” said Greene. “It’s gratifying when you pour your heart into a project and see the fruits: putting out good in the world and uplifting people.”
Cognitive science in action
When Greene was learning cognitive science through Pomona College (before Pitzer approved its own major in 2021), she thought she would hole up in a lab. She never imagined a dynamic world of people-centered design research and innovative tech. Greene credited her coursework in the brain, human behavior, linguistics, and philosophy of the mind for giving her a holistic view.
“I’ve seen not just how humans behave on a theoretical brain level but how they behave in the world in many different cultures and backgrounds,” said Greene. “That came from pairing cognitive science with my study abroad year.”
Greene studied abroad through Pitzer in Italy and Pitzer in Botswana, Tanzania, and South Africa (now Pitzer in Southern Africa).
“It was the highlight of my life,” said Greene. “What an experience to live with people, learn languages, and embed yourself in cultures you might have never been in!”
Greene learned Italian, Swahili, and Setswana from scratch during her year abroad. That inspired her thesis, in which she argued why studying abroad was the best way to learn an additional language.
“These study abroad programs are Pitzer-run and embody Pitzer so well,” said Greene. “It made me realize I want my work to have a global emphasis.”
Aside from studying abroad, Greene’s favorite part about Pitzer was the people. Whether in the Writing Center, Black Student Union, Office of Study Abroad & International Programs, or anywhere else that Greene worked or participated, she appreciated how others shared her values and inspired her to give back to the community.
Greene’s parting advice to college seniors is: “When you are fed up with figuring out your next step, don’t give up. Give more time to the process and acknowledge that what you want might come in different packages.”