Susan Howard

Susan Howard

Susan Howard

Associate Professor

Design-thinking, One Health, global health, sustainability, conservation decision-making, application of social marketing, game-based learning and emerging digital and social technologies for behavior change

Susan Howard is a behavioral scientist, educator, and innovator who teaches, mentors, and creates at the nexus of academia, industry, and entrepreneurship. She combines the humanities, behavioral, social, and natural sciences with best practices in game-based learning, digital technologies, human-centered design, direct-to-consumer marketing, and other business innovations in her teaching and applied research. Professor Howard's teaching style engages students in a systems-thinking approach to understanding the intrinsic link between health, environmental, social, and economic challenges and provides them with an arsenal of tools to ultimately adopt, advocate for, or design transformative solutions at an individual, campus, community or global level.
Professor Howard is an Assistant Professor in the School of Integrative Studies appointed as the Health, Medicine, and Society Faculty in 2018. Her educational contribution to enhancing student learning at Mason has been recognized for 4 consecutive years by the Office of the Provost for Outstanding Teaching as a result of high student evaluations of Mason Core Courses. In  2019 she was awarded the Faculty Career Connection Award by students from among 200 nominees for "for baking in" (as described by one of her student nominees) job-readiness skills and tools into her courses and coursework.
Professor Howard designed and taught the flagship Design Thinking course where students follow the Stanford Design Thinking Process to create a prototype that solves a problem. She currently teaches Contemporary Health Issues (INTS 410) where students apply principles of design thinking to solve a health challenge on campus or in their community. She also teaches Digital Literacy (INTS 249) where students similarly gain design thinking skills and learn how to appropriately leverage digital tools to communicate and advocate for topics related to social, health, or environmental issues. Prior to her appointment as Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health & Society, Professor Howard served as an adjunct instructor in the Global and Community Health department and as an instructor in the Environmental, Science & Policy department. In her role as adjunct faculty, Professor Howard was awarded the Stearn's Teaching Distinction Award.
Professor Howard’s solutions-approach to teaching has been influenced by her real-world global work experience.  Working in over 25 countries as a consultant with USAID, the Gates Foundation, UN agencies, the German Development Bank, NGOs, country governments, and others, Professor Howard has led teams to design products and implement social impact programs and projects that embody a systems-approach to problem-solving including leveraging the link between mobile access, direct-to-consumer innovations and adolescent reproductive health; highlighting the connection between environmental change and infectious diseases through game-based learning; creating markets and income generation for fuel-efficient stoves, safe-birthing kits and and family planning products;  ensuring integration of nutrition and agriculture in infant and young child feeding practices and the engagement of men to reduce stunting;  incorporating market-based approaches to family planning and reproductive health including social franchising and micro-enterprises; and capitalizing on consumer insights to mobilize health access and product uptake. Professor Howard is currently managing externally funded digital game-design and development projects in India and Nepal in collaboration with Mason faculty, students, and alumni, to effect behavior change in global health. The flagship game under the Game of Choice, Not Chance platform, Go Nisha Go, was recently awarded Best Learning Game 2023 from Games for Change Festival, New York.  It was also awarded Best Serious Game, Dublin, Ireland, and rated the top 18 games that changed the world. The game also made the 2023 Fast Company Innovations by Design Top 10 List of Innovations in the Social Justice Category.
Professor Howard received her Bachelor's Degree in English literature from Wesleyan University and with that humanities foundation came an understanding that peoples' stories, their histories, their wants and needs are at the core of social, health, and environmental change.  She subsequently received her Master’s Degree in Public Health (MPH) from the University of Hawaii with a dual specialization in Health Systems and Global Health, and her doctoral degree in Environmental Science from GMU when she realized that healthy people cannot exist without a healthy planet. Howard is of Indian descent and the founder and steward of the Drs. Surya and Cecil Howard Scholarship Fund which she set up in memory of her immigrant parents.  In addition to supporting student financial needs, she also is a patron of the arts with support to national and international artists and a member of the Arts Club of Washington. Her service also includes being an active volunteer with the National Park Service where she earned recognition through the 2016 NPS Centennial Service Award.  Professor Howard is an amateur acrylic painter with her work recently featured in the Arts Club of Washington Members Show in the Summer of 2022. She lives with her partner and two dogs along the C&O Canal. She is an avid hiker in pursuit of a good bottle of red wine as a reward.

Current Research

Use of choice-based digital games to analyze the feedback effect of park visitor behavior on wildlife, ecosystem and human health

Direct-to-consumer approaches using video game technology on fertility awareness and reproductive health information for adolescents in India

Web-based behavior frameworks as a discovery and decision-making tool to accelerate global health results


Selected Publications

Peer-reviewed publications:

Raj, A., Quilter, I., Ashby, El, Dixit, A., Howard, S., (9 January 2023), Psychographic profiling — a method for developing relatable avatars for a direct-to-consumer mobile game for adolescent girls on mobile in India, Oxford Open Digital Health

Shankar L., Dixit A., Howard S., (18 April 2023), A Design-Led Theory of Change for a Mobile Game App (Go Nisha Go) for Adolescent Girls in India: Multimix Methodology Study, JMIR Publications: Advancing Digital Health and Open Science

Saha, A., Dixit, A., Shankar, L., Battala, M., Khan, N., Saggurti, N., Ayyagari, K., Raj, A., Howard, S. (14 September 2023), Study Protocol for an Individually Randomized Control Trial for India’s first roleplay-based mobile game for reproductive health for adolescent girls. BMC Reproductive Health Journal https://reproductive-health

Huang, C.H., Mohandas, N., Raj, A., Howard, S., Batarseh, F., (2023) Data-driven healthcare indicators via precision gaming: with application to India. Data & Policy

Howard, S., Buttke, D., Lovejoy, T., Clark, K., Ashby, L., Aguirre, A., (1 June 2020), The Loop Trail Quest: Use of a Choice-based digital simulation, interactive video, and booklet to analyze decision-making of park visitors, Journal of Environmental Communication.





Expanded Publication List

Howard, S., Livermore, M. (2016) Applications of marketing practices and agent-based modeling to promote the principles of One Health in the C&O Canal National Historic Park. Prepared for the C&O Canal National Historic Park & Wildlife Biology and Public Health Divisions of the National Park Service.

Howard, S. Mustafa, S. (2016) EcoTEX Academy: STEM in Nature. A prototype for place-based experiential learning. Prepared for the National Park Service Wildlife Biology Division, Office of Public Health and Conservation Stewardship Division.

Howard, S., Singhal, V., Haider, N., Singh, J, Sharma, S., Chowdhury, A. (2013) Mind the gap: Uttar Pradesh Program Review. Prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Howard, S. Knapp, C. Adnan, A. (2013) We are the Government: Strategic Communication for Citizen Participation in Local Governance in Bangladesh. Prepared on behalf of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Tetra Tech.

Howard, S., (2011) Multi-Media & Training Catalogue. Alive & Thrive Ethiopia.   A compilation of media products on infant and young child nutrition. Prepared for the Alive & Thrive Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Howard, S., (2010) National Plan for Integrated Maternal Neonatal Child Health, Ministry of Health, Government of Pakistan. A strategy paper authored by and produced as a result of a high-level ministerial forum facilitated by Susan Howard.

Howard, S., (2010) Application of marketing principles to accelerate stunting reduction in Ethiopia. Prepared for the Alive & Thrive Initiative of the Gates Foundation.

Howard, S. (2009) Media Toolkit with Discussion Guide. A compilation of media products on HIV/AIDS prevention. Prepared on behalf of the Ministry of Health in Guyana, the National AIDS Program and USAID.

Howard, S. and Bradley, P., (2008) Innovative Approaches to Mobilizing Communities for Vaccination. UNICEF/Save the Children.

Grants and Fellowships

Teaching Assistant Fellowship, Environmental Science & Policy, AY 2016 & 2017

Curriculum Impact Grant, Office of the Provost, Conceived of and developed course modules to reflect professional development needs of sustainability professionals; co-wrote, revised, and solicited department and college feedback for successful grant. AY 2018-2019, Environmental Science & Policy Department, George Mason University


Courses Taught

DSGN 101/INTS 275 Introduction to Design Thinking

INTS 375 Special Topics: Health, Medicine & Society - Systems Thinking

INTS 410 Contemporary Health Issues

INTS 210 Sustainable World

INTS 391 Introduction to Integrative Studies

INTS 249 Digital Literacy




PhD, (2020) Environment, Science and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

MPH, (1999), International Health/Health Services Administration & Planning, School of Public Health, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI.

BA, English, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.



Recent Presentations

Conference Panels Chaired/Moderated:

Howard, S., Mohandas, N., Ayyagari, K., Batarseh, F., 2020 Global Digital Health Conference, Panel Moderator, A Game of Choice, Not Chance: Designing a Direct-to-Consumer Mobile Game with and for Girls in India, Washington, DC (virtual), December 9, 2020.

Howard, S. (Chair), Banerjee, S., Serious Games and Avatars to Influence Real World Behavior Change, Global Digital Health Forum, December 9, 2019, N. Bethesda, Maryland.

Howard, S. (Chair), Livermore, M., Schneider, A., Practicing Design-thinking: Case Studies from Asia and Africa. Accepted symposium presentation at the NCSE’s 18th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: The Science, Business, and Education of Sustainable Infrastructure: Building Resilience in a Changing World. January 23-24, 2018, Washington, DC.

Conference Papers accepted/presented:

Howard, S., Shankar, L., (2023, December 4-7). Creativity and Rigor at Play: The Application of a Multilayered Theory of Change to an award-winning role play game [Oral Presentation]. Global Digital Health Conference, Bethesda, MD.

Howard, S., (2023, December 4-7). Failing Fast: Lessons from Designing and Developing a USAID-funded Digital Game for Adolescents in India [Oral Presentation]. Global Digital Health Conference, Bethesda, MD.

Raj, A., Howard, S., (2023, December 4-7). Implementing a game-changing evaluation model to suit fussy researchers and serious game developers [Oral Presentation]. Global Digital Health Conference, Bethesda, MD.

Mohandas, N., Howard, S., (2023, December 4-7). Big Boys Do Cry: Researching and designing a digital game for Indian boys [Oral Presentation]. Global Digital Health Conference, Bethesda, MD.

Howard, S., Huang, C.H, Cucuzza, L. (2023, September 19-21). Go Nisha Go [Oral Presentation and Exhibit]. Ed Games Expo, Kennedy Center, Washington, DC.

Howard, S., & Ashby, E. (2023, June 5-9). Park Visitors Behaving Badly [Oral Presentation]. Conference on Communication for the Environment, International Environmental Communication Association, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Shankar, L. & Howard, S. (2022, November 14-17). Application of a multi-layer theory of change for an innovative mobile game to promote agency for adolescents in India [Oral Presentation]. International Conference on Family Planning, Johns Hopkins University, Pattaya, Thailand.

Ayyagari, K. & Howard, S. (2022, November 14-17). ‘Try-again’: Simulating real-world contraceptive decision making with ‘win/loss’ outcomes through a Game of Choice, Not Chance [Oral Presentation]. International Conference on Family Planning, Johns Hopkins University, Pattaya, Thailand.

Mohandas, N. & Howard, S. (2022, November 14-17). Design testing of an innovative mobile game intervention for adolescent girls in India [Oral Presentation]. International Conference on Family Planning, Johns Hopkins University, Pattaya, Thailand.

Lalita, S. & Howard, S. (2022, December 5-9). Shaping a Theory of Change for a Strategic Pathway to Empower Girls’ Choices through Digital Media [Oral Presentation]. International Strategic Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit, Johns Hopkins University, Marrakech, Morocco.

Mohandas, N. & Howard, S. (2022, December 5-9). Can a role-play-based game empower girls by nudging contraceptive negotiation with their boyfriends? [Oral Presentation]. International Strategic Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit, Johns Hopkins University, Marrakech, Morocco.

Ayyagari, K. & Howard, S. (2022, December 5-9). Collaboration not competition: How a digital gaming platform helps integrate and share essential sexual and reproductive health resources for adolescents [Oral Presentation]. International Strategic Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit, Johns Hopkins University, Marrakech, Morocco.

Howard, S. (2022, December 5-9). The Loop Trail “Quest”: Use of a choice-based digital game to analyze decision-making of park visitors [Poster presentation]. International Strategic Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit, Johns Hopkins University, Marrakech, Morocco.

Howard, S. (2022, April 21). The Loop Trail “Quest”: Use of a Choice-based digital simulation, interactive video, and booklet to analyze decision-making of park visitors [Virtual oral presentation]. 2022 Spotlight on National Park Resources in the National Capital Region. 

Howard, S., Batarseh, F., Shankar, L. (2021, October 5).  Unlocking girls’ potential through gameplay [Virtual oral presentation]. YTH (Youth Tech Health) Live Global 2021.

Ayyagari, K., Howard, S. (2021, May 25). Bridging in-game decisions and choices with real life access to FP/RH information, products, and services [Virtual oral presentation]. Global Health Science and Practice Technical Exchange Conference.

Howard, S., Ayyagari, K. (2021, May 5). Unlocking girls’ potential through gameplay: How mobile games empower girls to make confident choices, develop strong voices, and gain ability to share their own futures [Virtual oral presentation]. Global Digital Development Forum. 

Howard, S., Banerjee, S. (2020, August 3). Game of Choice, Not Chance: Building an immersive decision-making tool for adolescent girls in India. [Interactive virtual workshop] Youth Tech Health (YTH) Conference, San Francisco, California.

Howard, S. (2020, October 13). Synergies between entrepreneurs, academia, and the private sector to create social impact. [Virtual oral presentation]. FIESA 2020. 

Howard, S. (2020, September 14-16). Gaming for Youth Engagement and Teacher Training. [Panel Discussant].mEducation Alliance Virtual Symposia. 

Howard, S., Oser, R., Joyce, M., Adcox, O., (2018, December 8-9) Playing Games to Save Lives – Bringing Serious Gaming to Behavior Change [Interactive Workshop oral presentation]. 2018 Global Digital Health Forum, Washington, DC.

Howard, S., Aguirre, A.  (2018). Loop Trail “Quest”: Use of choice-based digital games to analyze the feedback effect of park visitor behavior on wildlife, ecosystem, and human health. [Accepted abstract]. Planetary Health Annual Meeting, Edinburg, Scotland.

Howard, S., Aguirre, A.  (2018) Loop Trail “Quest”: Use of choice-based digital games to analyze the feedback effect of park visitor behavior on wildlife, ecosystem, and human health. [Accepted abstract.] NACCB Annual Meeting, Toronto, Canada.


In the Media