Andrew Bernier | | WEBSITE | + WEBSITE

Title:  Designing a Systems Based Curriculum to Develop 21st Century Sustainability Literacy, Leadership and Communication

Abstract: Most of modern public education, particularly public education, was designed in a linear model to satisfy the needs of producing a competent workforce for the Industrial Revolution. While the United States has transitioned from the age of industry to the age of information and technology, education is still operating on a linear structure, which many scholars argue that the linear, industrial design has led to an unsustainable society. This dissertation describes the design, development, implementation and assessment of a sustainability curriculum modeled after living systems structure and behavior. Taking place in a public secondary Career and Technical Education magnet program, the Center for Research in Engineering, Science and Technology in Phoenix, Arizona launched the first known full-time sustainability program for honors level public high school students. The instructor of the program is the sole researcher of this dissertation, working with thirteen juniors to implement and measure their success and experience in a curriculum meant to mimic living systems and organic molecular structure,  an example of the growing movement of biomimicry. Placing assessment emphasis on relationships, students utilized digital media and communication to develop their understanding in the paper-free classroom. Following an extensive literature review of voices in critical pedagogy, systems theory, sustainable design, sustainability education and communication, the researcher presents a mixed methodology approach to triangulate the data collected from the students. Comprised of rubric assessment, student interviews and phenomenological student blogging, the data mapped each student’s “molecule” of their individual sustainability literacy. This molecular model gives a visual and potentially physical representation of each student’s own sustainability literacy for assessment. The data produced suggests that students who were already inclined to succeed in traditional industrial learning were capable of achieving higher scores (grades) as determined by the rubric assessment, which combined work (assignments) done and articulation of their knowledge. However, students who often struggled in traditional linear education continued some difficulty with achieving higher marks, mostly with assignment completion. There were no separation of students into groups to compared to one another. While assignment completion was part of the rubric scores, the whole grade for the student was composed of articulation of content and competencies and how well students discussed relationships between competencies, demonstrating relationship understanding exhibiting systems thinking. Most students fared better when able to discuss competencies in relation to each other while using digital assignments on electronic portfolios as evidence. Additionally, student blogs measured three elements of the student experience. Measured using a XY axis graphical plane, student blog entries were self-assessed for internal or external perspective, emotional context and how much academic content students elected to include. While there was low to mid elected use of academic content in the blogs, perspective hovered around neutral and student blogging tended towards more positive, suggesting that regardless of what they were learning, they tended to carry a more positive tone while in the curriculum, even with some content competencies inherently being more negative in context (e.g. pollution, endangered species, social injustice). Although there were some lapses in participation, and working with highly involved students with limited time, the study’s conclusion is that a curriculum designed after the dynamics of living system structure and behavior is a viable and effective model to measure a student’s sustainability literacy. Being a significant departure from traditional instruction, students did exhibit a learning curve when having to adopt this model while still enrolled in four other courses following traditional linear industrial curriculum.  With slight modification and further testing, this structure could be applied to other disciplines, other levels (e.g. elementary and undergraduate) and used as a mechanism to measure interdisciplinary learning.  

Fitzroy B. Beckford (Roy) |

Title:  Advancing an integrated food energy system (IFES) in Haiti: Applying resiliency and sustainability models in ecologically degraded environments

Abstract:  This study examines the complex factors and causes of Haiti’s ecological demise, identifying the tipping points which led to its early environmental challenges, its eventual isolation, economic stagnation and decline within the exclusionary global economic system of mercantilism, all resulting in, and reinforced by, a complex western ideological bias defined as ‘Haitiism’. The literature review examines the historical trends of colonized and independent Haiti under the notional concepts of victim blaming theory, political ecology, ecological economics, and cumulative causation theory. These notions are applied as lens of inquiry firstly to absolve Haiti of full blame, and to identify and provide clarification on the adverse historical events that triggered its demise. In responding to the ecological pressures, the research applies a whole systems intervention strategy that (1) examines the practicability of rebuilding soil horizons on Haiti’s eroded parent soils, using blends of biochar and compost to create Anthrosols by restorative anthropedogenesis (2) develop a closed loop cycle between biomass pyrolysis and farm soils, and (3) investigate how an integrated biomass production system that incorporates both the production of food and fuel crops, will impact Haiti’s biogeochemical cycles for the restoration of ecological cycles and ecosystem services. Taking a revisionist approach to problem diagnosis, the reassessment identifies Haiti’s most distinct crisis as significant and bourgeoning carbon depletion that is intricately connected to the country’s unavoidable overreliance on charcoal and wood energy. Since overreliance on biomass energy inevitably leads to deforestation and soil erosion, the net loss from stored and sequestered carbon reservoirs maligns the biogeochemical processes within trophic relationships to the extent that ecological recovery becomes increasingly intractable.  The mixed methods research and analysis applied in this inquiry incorporates both quantitative and qualitative measures of assessment which improves understanding of the relationship between Haiti’s soil biogeochemistry and the resuscitation of ecosystems services that are essential to livelihoods development.

Janet Carrier Ady | JADY@PRESCOTT.EDU

Title:   Framing Connectivity of Citizen Science and Environmental Education as Service Learning for Positive Youth Development

Abstract: Citizen science projects that blend science, education, and behavior change components reap both ecological and sociological benefits, strengthening participants’ connections to nature and affording scientific data needed to adapt land management practices in response to climate change. Following sound scientific protocols while attending to educational objectives and engagement outcomes helps realize the full potential of citizen science as a powerful conservation tool.  Those that are youth-focused tend to emphasize education about scientific inquiry but may lack experiential engagement components important for sound environmental education and the most effective science education. This leads to questions such as: How can citizen science programs be strengthened to provide more integrated programming? What are the essential components of integrated citizen science programming? Can elements of successful programing be incorporated into a framework for planning and evaluating programs? If components of experiential environmental education and positive youth development can be included in design and implementation, citizen science programs could expand their reach and impact, increase scientific data collected, improve education outcomes, and engage more youth as lifelong conservation constituents.

This research informs conservation professionals’ work with organized youth groups to implement community citizen science programs. Existing citizen science programs were analyzed to assist practitioners choosing programs appropriate for their study topic, location, and partners. The benefits of citizen science, from scientific, land management, and environmental education perspectives are examined; then barriers, challenges, and opportunities for citizen science are explored. Also shared are theories and practices relevant to experiential environmental and science education that could inform an integrated scientific research/environmental education model of citizen science.

Case study analysis of citizen science programs and input from citizen science and environmental education subject matter experts identified essential program elements needed to both achieve education outcomes and yield scientific data. The case study findings guided development of a planning framework to implement effective citizen science projects. The framework will assist scientists and environmental educators design robust citizen science projects for environmental monitoring to inform conservation work and to provide meaningful service learning for positive youth development.

Jenny Nicole Christion Myers | | WEBSITE

Title:  Narratives of Place: Vieques, Puerto Rico

Abstract: Being at home in the world existentially, physically, and emotionally is essential to human experience. Yet, confronted by the forces of modernity, the connections between humans and the places they live are increasingly fragile. How do people maintain this vital connection to place in the face of ecological deterioration and systemic injustice?  

This research examines the resilience of place attachment focusing on the small island community of Vieques, Puerto Rico. The study will have far-reaching importance as urbanization, development, militarism, and climate change alter the composition of communities throughout the world. It is my hope that stories emerging from Vieques will shed light on the ways people understand and articulate their relationships with traumatized places.

A further goal of the study is to expand public awareness about Vieques’ history and promote the case for justice. Until 2003, the U.S. Navy owned two-thirds of the island, and residents lived between an ammunition storage area and military training sites. After successfully ousting the Navy through grassroots protest, Viequenses are now fighting for economic, social, and environmental justice after more than 60 years of occupation.

To document the relationships Viequenses have with their embattled island, my research followed a style of ethnographic research that Lee & Ingold (2006) call “fieldwork on foot” (p. 68). I aim to present a phenomenologically rich portrait of Vieques, melding tools from narrative inquiry and natural history to explore how Viequenses express their connection to place in the landscapes that hold meaning for them (Lee & Ingold, 2006; Chalquist, 2007). To this end, I conducted semi-structured narrative interviews with 10 Viequenses about their relationships with these places, walking together in a shared experience of the land. Participants were recruited to speak to several specific aspects of place attachment including sustenance, residence, environmental and health concerns, and participation in the resistance movement.

This project is, by necessity, multifaceted and interdisciplinary. To understand the importance of place in the human experience, I will draw from indigenous writers, phenomenologists, geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists. To attend to the political dimensions of both Viequenses’ experiences and my role as a researcher in a cross-cultural context shaped by colonialism, militarism, and environmental destruction, I draw from environmental justice literature and indigenous methodologies to examine the complex ethical dynamics in this work. To grapple with the effects of trauma on Vieques’ ecosystems and people, I turn to the fields of ecopsychology, terrapsychology, and place attachment.

This work represents my effort to honor the gift of my Viequenses research partners’ stories, having walked with them in a shared experience of the land, and to spread their stories as one small part of the healing process as the struggle for justice in Vieques continues. 


Title:  Family Nature Clubs: Creating the Conditions for Social and Ecological Connection and Care

Abstract:  A robust body of existing research has identified three primary life experiences that foster the development of a long-lasting commitment to active care for the natural world.  These are: time spent enjoying nature during childhood; a close adult role model for care of nature; and participation in a nature and/or environment focused organization.  Family nature clubs (FNCs) create opportunities for children and their families to gather in a community that explores nature together on a regular basis – thus fulfilling all three of these pathways. This study was both exploratory and descriptive in purpose and design, using the methodologies of ethnography, case study and action research to gain understanding of the people who lead and participate in FNCs and the effects of their participation.  The study population, or cultural group, for this research is participants in Children and Nature Network (C&NN) FNCs.  As of mid-summer 2014, there were 200 family nature clubs registered with C&NN.  One of these FNCs is Columbia Families in Nature, which I started in my community of Columbia, Maryland as the action research portion of this research.  The study participants were organized into two groups in two different ways.  Columbia Families in Nature served as a sub-population, and case study, of the larger C&NN FNC population.  Additionally, the leaders of the FNCs, including myself, were explored as a sub-population of the broader group of participants.  The thesis for this research is that participation in FNCs has social and ecological outcomes that foster sustainability.  Thus, in addition to an ethnographic understanding of FNCs, the primary question framing this research was:  What are the social and ecological effects of family nature clubs? A mix of methods including direct observation, surveys and most-significant change interviews enabled these questions to be explored from a variety of valuable perspectives.  Through engagement with over 300 study participants representing 46 clubs, FNC participation was found to have significant positive effects for:  time spent in nature, environmental awareness and action, well-being, and a sense of connection to family, community, and place.

Meg Ferrigno |

Title:  Views from the Roof of the World: Tibetan Nomadic Perspectives on Climate Change 

Abstract: This dissertation is a collection of stories and experiences from the Tibetan nomads surrounding the Dza Chu (Mekong River) of Kham, in Qinghai Province of the Peoples Republic of China. This work is intended to transcend the political discussion of the Tibetan situation and focus on the global implications of local experiences of climate change. A multimedia presentation of nomadic experiences of climate change is presented to convert a sense of urgency and call towards global responsibility for readers. This work uses mindful inquiry as the basis of its ethnographic study that asks: How do the stories told by Tibetan nomads of the Dzachu basin reflect their perspectives on climate change? And how do the nomadic relations with the water interact and compare with “outsider” scientific observations and plans for the region. Over thirty in-depth semi-structured focus groups were conducted within the Dzachu Watershed. A handful of semi-structured individual interviews, participant observations and self-guided visual ethnography with the nomads of Eastern Tibet support the thesis. This research strives to fill a gap within the global discourse on Asia’s water towers and provide further evidence of climate-related changes. Local, people and earth based stories are provided here as qualitative data in order to better integrate culturally appropriate land and water protection plans for this delicate and sacred area. It is the aim of this thesis to prove the impacts of climate change on the nomads of the region. Hopefully their stories demonstrate the critical need for respectful global relations with this precious water source that provides life to millions of humans throughout Asia. Readers are encouraged to click on the hyperlinks to the associated Instagram account.


Title:  “Soil in My Blood:” Women Farmers, Transformative Learning, and Regenerative Agriculture

Abstract:  Women farmers in the U.S. are more likely than men to adopt more ecologically-based practices on their farms. In order for such practices to increase, it is relevant to understand how these women farmers learn the values and skills that shape their work. However, despite decades of scientific work on agroecosystems, very little research includes the farmer as a part of the system and even less research describes the experiences of women farmers. Successful women farmers have developed and sustained their practices of regenerative agriculture over a decade or more by learning from the land and other farmers in horizontal networks (both formal and informal). Viewed through an ecofeminist lens, the experiences of these farmers can be understood as a process of personal transformation: in intimate relationship with their land, women regenerative farmers are decolonizing themselves and are thus free to transcend the dualism of nature as capital/nature as living being with rights. Understanding the process of their development and their unique contributions to regenerative agriculture is critical to the growth of an agriculture that supports local economies, civic community, and ecological health. This exploratory dissertation research was to identify and collect the stories of experienced women farmers in the Upper Midwest who self-describe as participating in regenerative agriculture. For the purposes of this study, regenerative agriculture is defined as practices that mimic ecological functions, engage civically with the local community, and are economically viable. Each of these dimensions are further defined and given benchmarks through a review of the literature. This conceptualization of regenerative agriculture implies complex interconnectivity between biological and cultural systems. My core research questions were: How do these women sustain themselves and their practice as regenerative farmers? And what does this mean for the future of regenerative agriculture? The women in this study created meaning from their work in three areas. Meanings and motivation emerged from how each farmer situated herself in her farm ecology, how she considered her relationship to her communities, and what values inspired her. To understand the patterns emergent in the stories of the women in this study, this research project draws from and builds on the literatures of agroecology, civic agriculture, local economies, the experiences of women farmers, a conceptual understanding of place as it relates to farmer experience and identity, place-based learning, and transformative learning. These literatures are viewed through an ecofeminist lens, and also informed by principles of feminist science. In this dissertation I describe my rationale for an inductive, mixed methods approach incorporating arts-informed research and semi-structured ethnographic interviews of women farmers as a way to more effectively capture the multidimensional nature of the experiences of the farmers in the study. Outcomes of this research will be valuable to farmers, educators and researchers, and will include: increased awareness of stories of successful women farmers; increased understanding of the creativity and attitudes farmers learn in order to persist in farming over a decade or more; increased knowledge of how to manage farms holistically as biocultural systems that include humans as part of the system; and more examples of interdisciplinary research methodology that provide a critical addition to the science of agroecology and the technical development of farming. Over the long term, these outcomes may contribute to the growth of regenerative agriculture.

Lindsey Mica Rudibaugh  |

Title:  A Help the Way You're Needed: Ethnography of an Appalachian Work College

Abstract: This doctoral research is an ethnographic study that sought to better understand the lived culture of Alice Lloyd College, a work college located in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, and its efficacy in engaging Appalachian students in sustainability education in a college setting.  Campus culture was found to be consistent with that of the broader Appalachian region, with three blue collar values emerging as core cultural indicators within the campus community.  The three core values are work ethic, service, and self-reliance.  Student participants reported low levels of cultural dissonance in transitioning from their family lives to life in college, with most claiming that their immediate families were supportive of their decision to attend college.  This is uncommon in the higher education landscape as many Appalachian students on more traditional campuses are first-generation, struggle to persist to graduation, and experience clashing between their home culture and that which they experience at school.  The institution was found to be a model of sustainability education in the areas of social and economic justice.  Social justice is promoted through the enactment of the institution’s mission of cultivating leaders to serve and improve the Appalachian region.  Economic justice is fostered through the College’s work program which makes higher education possible without debt for low-income Appalachian students by providing tuition waivers to those who work a minimum of ten hours per week carrying out critical campus operations.  While environmental justice was not found to be a current outcome, the institution’s practices have valuable implications for re-envisioning higher education as a tool for promoting—rather than impeding— holistic sustainability efforts by reinforcing and promulgating sustainable blue collar values through teaching subsistence skills and systems thinking in a work college setting.  Data collection for this study was conducted via responsive qualitative interviews with multiple campus constituent groups, including students, faculty, and staff.  Data analysis consisted of attributes coding, magnitude coding, and values coding, followed by code landscaping to identify patterns across each coding phase.  


Title:  A Necessary Evil? Barriers to Transformative Learning Outcomes for Resistant Participants inRequired Experiential Learning Activities

Abstract: Experiential learning is at the heart of student-centered pedagogy and required experiential learning in higher education is on the rise. It is widely held that major goals of experiential education include transformative learning and the promotion of socially just communities. These outcomes are also hallmarks of sustainability education. Important outcomes of transformative learning involve intercultural learning and the development of an enhanced sense of civic responsibility. These and other desired outcomes can be inhibited by a phenomenon described as resistant participation. This dissertation expands current understandings of such resistance including root causes, implications, and opportunities to address this phenomenon. 

The debate regarding the merits of required service, service-learning, study abroad, and other experiential learning opportunities is also examined. To this end, an exploration of existing literature related to required experiential learning and reluctant participation is offered. In addition to a case study of Susquehanna University’s Global Opportunities program, data for this study was gathered through research methods including focus groups and semi-structured, open-ended interviews. Findings reveal a variety of causes of resistance, how resistance manifests for some students prior to required study away, and strategies that practitioners in the field of experiential education employ to address such resistance.

Joy Kcenia O'Neil |

Title:  “Learning to Cook” while “Cooking to Learn”: (Re)membering and (Be)coming Sustainability

Abstract:  Moving away from education for and about sustainability, the purpose of this study was to answer Steven Sterling’s (2004) call for education as sustainability. Based on an in-depth study of an Environmental Cooking course at the University of Vermont in 2012, I arrive to a process which I propose as (re)membering and (be)coming sustainability.  The dissertation study proposes a "model" of Kitchen Based Learning (KBL) and demonstrates what happens when one “cooks to learn” while “learning to cook.”  Using posthumanist agential realism and ecological complexity theory, living stories around what Karen Barad calls the “performative intra-actions” O'Neil of cooking, sensing, eating are (re)constructed and diffracted.

James Patsalides | | Website

Title: Building a Climate for Creativity: A Theory of Action to Improve U.S. Elementary Schools

Abstract: In the context of a rapidly changing world, higher order thinking skills are necessary for sustainability of U.S. society.  Beginning with the premise that U.S. public schools are charged with the constitutional duty of growing children into informed and educated citizens, prepared to thrive in the world of work and to participate in democratic processes; and, that higher order thinking is a core part of that mission, this study examined children’s perspectives on school climate and the environment for the teaching and learning of higher order thinking in twenty five public elementary schools in an urban Connecticut school district. This integrated program of research used an exploratory sequential/concurrent mixed methods design to construct a pair of new psychometric instruments to measure student attitudes toward school climate and the environment for teaching and learning higher order thinking in a public elementary school.  The intended uses and interpretations of the scores reported by the Climate4Creativity Elementary (C4C/SPE) and Middle School (C4C/SPM) Student Perspectives measurement instruments, were validated to professional standards.  The study concluded that these instruments have utility for public elementary schools, particularly in identifying areas of focus and in the management of strategic and tactical school improvement work as part of a wider program of transformation in a school.  Cronbach’s Alpha reliability scores in excess of 0.90 were reported for all measures. This study supported the core idea that safer schools with stronger, more caring communities provide individual students with better learning environments, and that general learning and the learning of creativity are intrinsically linked in the minds of students in public elementary schools, even though these students may not always name these components as such.  The environment for learning higher order thinking measure tends to deteriorate from the early grades to middle school grades, implying both raised expectations, and an increase in variability in the data due to more and more variety in classroom settings and teacher practices.  Examination of reported bullying experience shows bullying victimization to be a powerful, pervasive determinant of school climate and feelings of safety and community in all grades, but, bullying victimization tends not to penetrate into perceptions of the classroom learning environment to the same degree.  By exploring school safety, community, and the structure of the learning environment required for the teaching and learning of higher order thinking in a public elementary school, this work begins the creation of a framework to enable school leaders to make significant, transformational, strategic change in their schools.

Jeremy Solin |

Title:  The Place of Food Systems:  Exploring the Relationship between Sense of Place and Community Food Systems Engagement

Abstract: This qualitative research study examined the relationship between sense of place and engagement in community food systems.  Narrative inquiry, phenomenology and case study methodologies were used to capture the rich, lived experiences of 29 participants involved in community food systems.  The participants were affiliated with one of three organizations in Wisconsin: Alice’s Garden (Milwaukee), Central Rivers Farmshed (Stevens Point), and Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems (Oneida Nation).  The results emerging from semi-structured interviews uncovered the interrelated motivations, outcomes, engagement activities, and senses of place of the participants.

The study proposes that food, particularly the growing and eating of local food, has the unique characteristic of connecting people to the social and ecological aspects of place in ways that develop a strong sense of place and an integrated human-nature worldview centered on food (a “foodview”).  The visceral and sensual characteristics of food are believed to be the driving factors in connecting people to place and each other.  In addition, food systems activists in this study are motivated by a range of factors with four consistent motivations across participants: justice, health, community, and care for the land. 

The results also support a multi-dimensional understanding of sense of place.  Building on both positivist and phenomenological perspectives, an understanding of sense of place is proposed that includes interrelated dimensions of place, socio-cultural sense of place, individual sense of place, and place action.  Sense of place (both socio-cultural and individual) include affective aspects of identity, belonging, and sustenance and symbolic place meanings. Reciprocity is the link between sense of place and place action.  Sense of place does motivate care for place (place action), which in-turn strengthens sense of place.  Childhood sense of place is believed to motivate engagement later in life. 

Shawna Weaver |

Title:  Nature-Based Therapeutic Service: Mutual Healing for Holistic Change

Abstract:  Individual human wellness is deeply connected with environmental wellness. Healthy people influence a healthier environment, and when people interact with a healthy environment, it fosters health in people. Knowing this relationship, an important intersection of mental health and sustainability becomes apparent.Mental health professionals and sustainability professionals struggle with helping people to change behaviors. Effecting behavioral change improves when people have a multitude of tools and motivators for change. Nature- based therapeutic service (NBTS) as an ecotherapeutic approach that integrates principles of sustainability education, mental health, and service learning. The combination of education, health, and skills training enables people to develop holistic resilience, motivation, and hope. To develop NBTS, the researcher explored ecotherapeutic programming at animal sanctuaries around the world. Animal sanctuaries foster opportunities for service-learning, humane education, human-animal interactions, and sustainability. They often integrate holistic wellness for animals, humans, and the environment together. This multiple case study included surveys, website analysis, site visits, interviews, and active participation. The question specifically being explored was the thesis, NBTS has potential as an ecotherapeutic method to foster behavior change and a holistically sustainable lifestyle. In other words, the assumption is that when some form of nature-based therapeutic service takes place in such a setting, the results are beneficially transformative for both people and nature. The findings indicated that there are animal sanctuaries who engage in activities similar to NBTS and similar to ecotherapy. Service to nature does foster behavioral change in participants. These changes are evident in increased sustainable and compassionate behaviors, awareness, and even lifestyle changes. Developments from the research included increased communication and new networking tools among animal sanctuaries, increased awareness among sanctuaries of ecotherapy and various programming tools, an enriched model of NBTS, collaboration opportunities, and further research questions.

Steve Glenn | 

Title: Biological Soil Crusts in the Washington North Cascades: Distribution on an Array of Alpine Sites

Abstract:  One of the least researched phenomena within the alpine regions of mountain biomes is the combination of primitive plants, algae, fungi, and lichens that are generally referred to as biological soil crusts. For this distribution study, sites containing well-developed biological soil crusts were examined in a variety of alpine, non-forested, vegetated landscapes in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington, USA. For each site, data were recorded for percent ground cover of biological soil crusts, slope aspect, and slope gradient of the terrain where the crust communities were located. For all of the sites, biological soil crusts were common, with a percent ground cover median of 29% and a range of 11% to 73%. The arrangement of the biological soil crusts on all sites was quite similar: all were clumped, as opposed to single, and random, as opposed to uniform. All of the soil crusts were found on soil exposed to direct sunlight. Few, if any, crusts were found in the shade of heavy forbs, or forest, or under accumulations of organic litter. When biological soil crusts were found associated with higher-order vegetation, it was with sparse graminoids, ericaceous woody shrubs, and stunted or krummholz Pinaceae trees. The biological soil crusts from this study exist on all locally undisturbed soil slope-gradients from 0% to almost 100%, and occurred on all aspects except for those in the Southwest quadrant.

This study contains an extended literature review for desert and high latitude circumpolar crusts, as well as alpine biological soil crusts. Studies of biological soil crusts in subalpine and alpine environments are not common; it is hoped that this study will stimulate more research interest in these often overlooked pioneer biotic communities.