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Franzen JSE Fall 2017 General PDF

As the health of the planet continues to deteriorate, it is critical to develop environmentally literate citizens. According to Hollweg et al. (2011), an environmentally literate person is someone who “makes informed decisions concerning the environment; is willing to act on these decisions…and participates in civic life” (pp. 2-3). However, people hold many misconceptions about the environment (Coyle, 2005).

Environmental education (EE) provides the methods and content that can lead to environmental literacy and a more sustainable future. Through EE, people develop questioning, analysis and interpretation skills; knowledge of environmental processes and systems; skills for understanding and addressing environmental issues; and personal and civic responsibility (NAAEE, 2010). Environmental education develops an environmentally literate citizenry that makes choices that are better for the health of the environment, leading to a more sustainable planet.

Environmental education has other benefits, besides leading to environmentally literate citizens. For example, using the environment as the integrating context for learning has been linked to improved test scores, engagement, and teacher satisfaction (Liebermann & Hoody, 1998). There are also health benefits from spending time outdoors (e.g. Faber Taylor & Kuo, 2009).

Advocates for environmental education have consistently targeted pre-service teacher education as an avenue to promote environmental literacy (Ballantyne, 1995; Gardner, 2009; Plevyak et al., 2001; Ruskey & Wilke, 1994; Ruskey, Wilke, & Beasley, 2001; UNESCO, 1978). Even so, teachers have continued to enter the workforce ill-equipped for the important task of preparing citizens to make educated and informed decisions about the environment (Coyle, 2005; Liu, Yeh, Liang, Fang, & Tsai, 2015; Moseley, Reinke, & Bookout, 2002; Plevyak et al., 2001; Ruskey & Wilke, 1994; UNESCO, 1978; Wilke, Peyton, & Hungerford, 1987). How are teacher education programs preparing teachers to include environmental education?

Numerous barriers can make it difficult to include environmental education (EE) in pre-service teacher education programs. Some of the barriers that have been identified include deficiencies in faculty member knowledge or interest, unreceptive institutional cultures, and a lack of state requirements and national accreditation (Ashmann, 2010; Franzen, 2010; Heimlich, Braus, Olivolo, McKeown-Ice, & Barringer-Smith, 2004; Mastrilli, 2005; McKeown-Ice, 2000; Meredith et al., 2002; Powers, 2004).

The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) created the Guidelines for Excellence: Professional Development of Environmental Educators (NAAEE, 2017), referred to as Preparation Guidelines for the remainder of this paper. The Preparation Guidelines address the barriers to including EE in teacher education programs by providing a reference for faculty members who are not knowledgeable about EE, a set of competencies that may ease unreceptive institutional cultures, and support for national accreditation in EE. The Preparation Guidelines delineate the competencies for preparation in EE. They are composed of twenty-four guidelines, or competencies, that are organized into six themes: environmental literacy, foundations of EE, professional responsibilities of the environmental educator, planning and implementing EE programs, fostering learning, and assessing and evaluating EE. The Preparation Guidelines define what educators should know and be able to do, ranging from content knowledge about the environment to assessing environmental education programs. Table 1 summarizes the Preparation Guidelines.

The purpose of this study was to examine how elementary teacher education programs (ETEPs) in four Midwest Environmental Education Conference partner states (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) address and assess the competencies set forth by the Preparation Guidelines. This paper first provides a literature review of teacher education and environmental education. Then, the methods of the study and the findings are presented. The findings are then discussed and recommendations made.

Table 1. Preparation guidelines. Note. From Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators, by NAAEE, 2010, Washington DC: NAAEE. Copyright 2000, 2004, 2010, and 2017 by the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Franzen Table 1 PDF

Review of the literature

Role of faculty members

Although there are few EE-specific teacher educators in the United States (Mastrilli, 2005; McKeown-Ice, 2000; Meredith et al., 2002), some general pre-service teacher education faculty members choose to include EE in the college curriculum. However, Ashmann (2010) found that the relative autonomy of faculty members allows them to play a large role in preparing pre-service teachers. According to Ashmann, the extent to which EE is incorporated is dependent on who teaches each course. Teacher educators who are interested in or knowledgeable about EE are more likely to include EE in their courses (Ashmann, 2010; Mastrilli, 2005; McKeown-Ice, 2000). For teacher educators that choose to include EE, integrating it into methods courses is preferred (Ashmann, 2010; Heimlich et al., 2004; Powers, 2004).

Faculty teaching methods

Pre-service teacher education faculty members who include EE in their courses choose various methods to present the topic. Sharing EE curriculum resources such as Project Learning Tree, a national curriculum guide, is a common strategy for integrating EE into existing pre-service teacher education courses (Ashmann, 2010; McKeown-Ice, 2000; Meredith et al., 2002; Powers, 2004). Another common teaching method to incorporate EE is to utilize the community. For example, faculty members often choose to take pre-service teachers on field trips to local sites (Ashmann, 2010; Mastrilli, 2005; Meredith et al., 2002; Powers, 2004). Some faculty members bring in local experts as guest speakers (Ashmann, 2010). Additionally, Powers (2004) found that some faculty members opt to teach outdoors.

Practical experiences are an important component of general pre-service teacher education that builds confidence and self-efficacy in pre-service teachers (Yost, 2006). Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckoff (2009) found links between teacher education programs and positive student outcomes that suggest that practice in preparation programs is important for first year teachers. Additionally, Darling-Hammond (2010) notes that ‘learning to practice in practice, with expert guidance, is essential to becoming a great teacher of students with a wide range of needs’ (p. 40). In order to become great teachers, pre-service teachers must be given the opportunity to practice. Through peer teaching EE, a form of practice, students see themselves as environmental educators who are more likely to try out that role again in the future (Nelson, 2010). Practical experiences that match pre-service teachers with in-service teachers that use EE in their own teaching would be helpful, but is limited by the number of potential role models (Powers, 2004).

Faculty members might address EE through a number of other strategies. For example, Powers (2004) found that faculty members modeled by teaching EE lessons and through environmentally friendly behaviors. EE was also commonly reported to be included in pre-service teacher education programs through problem solving, cooperative learning, discussions, and inquiry (Mastrilli, 2005; McKeown-Ice, 2000; Meredith et al., 2002), strategies that are supported in general education (e.g. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, 2012). Ashmann (2010) found that EE is addressed in courses through the introduction of EE standards, a practice recommended in the social studies context by Henning and Shin (2010). Furthermore, a number of institutions reported that they integrate EE across the curriculum (Mastrilli, 2005; McKeown-Ice, 2000; Meredith et al., 2002).

Faculty assessment strategies

Faculty members implement a variety of assessments, including some that overlap with teaching methods. Cruickshank and Metcalf (1993) propose three assessment strategies for general teacher education. One strategy is that peer teaching could be assessed by peers and the course instructor. A second strategy is that pre-service teachers could be faced with a scenario, such as a student with a learning disability, and evaluated on their response to the simulation. Finally, reflective teaching, in which pre-service teachers critically analyze their own teaching, has been proposed as an assessment strategy. Cruickshank and Metcalf specifically suggested these strategies be used to assess skills of applicants at three different entrance points: to the education program, prior to student teaching, and prior to graduating. Cruickshank and Metcalf acknowledged that it may be difficult to implement these assessment strategies but that it is important in this increased time of teacher accountability.

Role of institutional and departmental culture

An institutional culture that promotes environmental education leads to the inclusion of EE in college courses. “A driving force at the institutional level” (Ashmann, 2010, p. 13) is a commonality among pre-service teacher education programs that outshone others in Wisconsin. These forces ranged from an EE mission statement to a close collaboration between teacher education and natural sciences faculty.
Institutional and departmental support for EE is often lacking. For example, in a study that included respondents from a broad array of colleges across the United States, Heimlich et al. (2004) found that many teacher education programs do not require environmental concepts to be included in course content. Similarly, a clearly described quantitative study of Pennsylvania’s elementary teacher education programs found that most respondents (90%) did not insist that pre-service teachers take a specific course in EE (Mastrilli, 2005). Additionally, Meredith et al. (2002) found that the majority of Ohio institutions did not require pre-service teachers to take a course in EE.

Role of state mandates and national accreditation

It has been suggested in multiple studies that state teacher certification guidelines might have a positive influence on including EE in pre-service teacher education programs (Heimlich et al., 2004; Mastrilli, 2005; Meredith et al., 2002; McKeown-Ice, 2000). For example, Wisconsin’s Teacher Education Program Approval and Licenses (Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter PI 34, 2000) requires programs to prepare pre-service teachers to address all state standards, including EE (Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Environmental Education, 1998). Other states have EE standards: Maryland (Maryland State Department of Education, n.d.), Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2002), and Washington (Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction, 2014).
However, state certification guidelines do not necessarily have a positive influence on including EE in pre-service teacher education programs in Wisconsin, a state that mandates EE for K-12 students and requires that teacher education programs prepare teachers to address these standards (Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter PI 34, 2000). After reviewing college courses identified as integrating EE into pre-service teacher education, Ashmann (2010) reported that EE is not necessarily listed on course syllabi. Ashmann also noted that, in some cases, EE is only included if “students choose to use it as the context for completing an assignment” (2010, p. 8). For a state that prides itself on being environmentally progressive, Ashmann’s study revealed that many pre-service teacher education programs in Wisconsin are not following state mandates.

Conversely, Mastrilli (2005) found that Pennsylvania state requirements positively influenced the integration of EE in pre-service teacher education programs. Although this baseline study for Pennsylvania discovered that most pre-service teacher education programs do not address all nine components of the environment and ecology standards, the majority of programs noted positive factors to including EE. The most often cited factor for including EE was “state certification guidelines and standards” (p. 26) followed by faculty interest and knowledge (Mastrilli, 2005).

National accreditation in EE should positively influence EE pre-service teacher education programs (Heimlich et al., 2004). In 2007, the NAAEE partnered with the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education to release accreditation standards for EE. Two universities were accredited through this program before its discontinuation in 2013. In 2014, the NAAEE piloted its own accreditation program for college and university programs. Higher education accreditation through NAAEE continues and there are currently eight accredited programs (NAAEE, n.d.). Both sets of standards were based on the Preparation Guidelines. No studies have been published about the effect national accreditation is having on EE in pre-service teacher education programs.

The purpose of this study was to examine how elementary teacher education programs address and assess the competencies set forth by the Preparation Guidelines. Three research questions that guided this study will be discussed in this paper:

1. What teaching methods are used to address the Preparation Guidelines in elementary teacher education programs?

2. What assessment strategies are used to address the Preparation Guidelines in elementary teacher education programs?

3. How is extent of use of the Preparation Guidelines related to the total number of different teaching methods and assessment strategies used to address the Preparation Guidelines?

Survey instrument

The electronic survey was hosted in Survey Monkey and was divided into three sections. Section I of the survey asked for identifying information about the participants and whether or not their institution offered a minor or major degree, endorsement, or certificate in EE. Participants were also asked whether or not the institution offered one or more stand-alone courses in EE and if EE was embedded in the undergraduate program. Additionally, participants were asked the extent EE was included in the ETEP. Section II requested information about teaching methods and assessment strategies used to address the Preparation Guidelines. In Section III, participants rated their familiarity with the Preparation Guidelines and the extent of including them, as well as the importance of including EE in ETEPs.

Survey validity was assessed in two ways. Content validity of the survey was assessed through a review by a panel of experts (Patten, 2001). Panelists were asked to check for content validity, clarity, and overall length and appearance of the survey. The six member panel included faculty members, a research specialist, a statistician, and teacher education researchers. As a result of the review, the survey questions were modified to allow respondents to indicate the importance of including EE in ETEPs and if their program embeds EE in undergraduate courses.

The reliability and internal consistency of the survey were assessed through a pilot study. A total of 75 ETEPs from Michigan and Ohio were invited to complete the survey. The survey recruitment letter was emailed to college deans and department chairs. They were asked to forward the survey to the person most knowledgeable about EE in the elementary teacher education program. Potential participants were reminded to complete the survey up to three times. Responses from completed surveys (40%, n = 30) were analyzed by reviewing overall responses, individual responses in order to note patterns, and using Cronbach’s alpha to assess internal consistency of extent of use of the Guidelines (α = .923). Results from the validity and reliability assessments were used to improve the survey.

Participant recruitment and characteristics

Colleges and universities with ETEPs in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin were identified through the state education boards. Contact information of potential participants was collected from state agencies and institutional websites. Using expert sampling, a form of purposive sampling (Trochim, 2006), the chair or dean of the ETEP at each of the 136 institutions was invited by email to participate in the survey or forward the survey to the person most knowledgeable about environmental education in the ETEP. The survey was composed of 47 items and took approximately 20 minutes to complete. Potential respondents were reminded to complete the survey once a week for up to three weeks (Dillman, Smyth, & Christian, 2009) Those who were known to have responded or forwarded the survey did not receive a reminder email. If the initial contact provided an email address for the person they forwarded the survey to, the new contact was reminded to complete the survey. The survey was closed after four weeks.

Of the 136 surveys sent, 66 institutions (49%) responded to at least a portion of the survey. Fifty-two surveys were finished, resulting in a 38% completed response rate. The majority of all respondents were tenured or tenure-track faculty members. Additionally, most of the ETEPs had between one and ten tenured or tenure-track faculty members and nontenure-track faculty members. Most respondents claimed that EE was embedded in undergraduate courses at their institution. Half of the respondents indicated the institution offered one or more stand-alone courses in EE in undergraduate coursework. Of all respondents, 39% (n = 26) indicated that the institution both embedded EE in undergraduate coursework and offered one or more stand-alone courses in EE. Just 14% (n = 9) of the institutions offered a major in EE and 18% (n = 12) offered a minor in EE.

Data analysis

Data from completed surveys were analyzed using SPSS v.20. Responses were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Regression analysis identified relationships between extent of use of the Preparation Guidelines and the number of faculty teaching methods and assessment strategies. Because the outcome variables were count variables, a Poisson regression analysis was conducted. Goodness of fit statistics were analyzed to determine whether or not the model was a good fit and if the regression analysis was appropriate. It was not a good fit due to over-dispersion of data, so negative binomial regression was used.

Open-ended questions were included in the survey to allow participants to explain responses. Nine such questions were included. The number of responses to each question ranged from 1-42. Individual surveys were reviewed to provide a better picture of a single program. Then all responses to a single question were read. Open coding (Creswell, 2013) was employed to analyze the data. Codes were tallied and umbrella codes created to group similar codes.


Importance and extent of including environmental education

Respondents were asked about the importance and extent of including EE in ETEPs. Although 79% (n = 52) of the respondents reported they either did not include EE at all or only addressed it to a small extent, 62% (n = 33) felt that it was important to a moderate or great extent to include EE in ETEPs. Additional detail is presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Extent include EE and extent of importance to include EE.

Respondents explained the importance of EE and the extent of including EE in the ETEP through an open-ended question. Respondents noted that it is important to include EE in teacher education programs because of the state of the environment and the need to develop students who will become stewards of the environment. Concerns were shared regarding current pre-service teachers’ disconnection from the environment and lack of understanding of environmental issues. It was also indicated that EE meets the learning and developmental needs of a variety of learners and that, by providing EE in ETEPs, pre-service teachers will be more likely to include EE in their future classroom. The amount of content necessary to include in ETEPs was mentioned as a barrier to including EE. In reaction to this barrier, one respondent noted that “[EE] is extremely important but reality is that it must be integrated into other subject areas.” More than half explicitly stated that EE was part of methods courses. Just under a third commented that including EE in content courses was common.

Familiarity with and use of Preparation Guidelines

Respondents were asked about their familiarity with and use of the Preparation Guidelines. Responses revealed that over half (n = 29) of the respondents were not familiar with the Preparation Guidelines. Over a third (n = 20) of the respondents indicated that they were familiar with them to a small or moderate extent. Just 8% (n = 4) of survey respondents specified that they were familiar with the Preparation Guidelines to a great extent. This familiarity came from reviewing them, studying them as part of a master’s program, and using them to support grant proposals.
Even though over half of the respondents noted they were not familiar with the Preparation Guidelines, over half of the respondents indicated using the themes to a small or moderate extent. Two respondents indicated that their ETEP addressed all six of the themes to a great extent. One of the two respondents credited using the Preparation Guidelines to a great extent because of the professional and educational expertise of the faculty member teaching the course. The other respondent noted that the ETEP used the state’s Department of Public Instruction science themes in the content and methods courses. Twenty-one percent (n = 11) of the respondents commented that they addressed all six themes to a small extent and 15% (n = 8) indicated that they did not address any of the six themes in their ETEPs.

The extent each of the Preparation Guidelines themes was addressed varied. Fostering Learning was the theme most commonly addressed to a great extent. Professional Responsibilities of the Environmental Educator, Planning and Implementing Environmental Education Programs, and Assessment and Evaluation of Environmental Education were also reported to be implemented to a great extent. The theme least commonly addressed was Foundations of Environmental Education. Table 3 provides a summary of the extent that respondents addressed the Preparation Guidelines themes.

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This general issue of the Journal of Sustainability Education is chock-full of case examples infusing sustainability ethics and perspectives into a wide array of learning environments. Many benchmarks of success are open for discussion, and I am struck by the wider question of what progress towards fully-implemented sustainability education looks like around the world. In this issue we present reports from Malaysia, India, and a case study that crosses the globe from Bali to Hong Kong to Berkeley. As the agenda of the United States’ political establishment veers sharply away from sustainability on all levels, I am pleased to share deep examples of leadership from Canada, Australia, Costa Rica, and even teachers of immigrant youth in the United States.

Together, these papers show an increasing integration across academic disciplines, and between academia at large and the communities it is meant to serve. I find this trend hopeful, in the context of a deeply divided United States. Can these moments of learning teach a new generation how to work with ambiguity, complexity, and people of differing viewpoints? We are reminded in these times that environmental sustainability cannot be separated from social justice, nor from economic systems that structure inequality and ecosystem destruction. We as educators, are called to teach our students the skills of adaptation and resilience.

While we do not often receive papers dealing with the more technical side of sustainability education, this issue features a well-researched and thoroughly reported case example of changing public behavior in Aspen, Colorado, U.S.: “City of Aspen single use bag study,” by Laura Armstrong and Elizabeth O’Connell Chapman. I also review two excellent texts for sustainable agriculture educators.

Lastly, our two reports in this issue, that I mentioned above, highlight the global need and nature of sustainability education and have raised a lot of discussion in the staff. How can we share scholarly articles effectively where English is a second language? We value our global contributors’ perspectives and experience and are committed to sharing those. At the same time, we have a limited capacity to work on ESL issues or translations. If you are fluent in a language other than English and are interested in serving on our peer review team, please reach out to us.


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Rosentrater Burke JSE Fall 2017 General PDF


We undertook this study to understand the attitudes, perceptions, and habits of the student body at Iowa State University regarding the environment. We sought to understand their environmental knowledge and behaviors. Overall, we found that, regardless of demographic, students appear to be interested in environmental topics, reducing their footprint, and improving the environment overall, but they did not necessarily want to pay more, nor did they fully embrace personal responsibility.


Many governments have instituted some degree of either climate mitigation or pollution reduction policies to address climate change. The United States and China, the two leading nations in global emissions, recently announced that both the U.S. and China would commit to substantial reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (Davenport, 2014). However, as Mike Hulme (date), contributor to the United Nations Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) writes in Why We Disagree About Climate Change, climate change is viewed as “mega-problem” that leads us to believe we need a “mega-solution,” and that kind of thinking has lead us astray (Hulme 2009). To effectively combat climate change, many solutions are must be enacted communally and locally, connecting to create vast social, cultural, and ecological change on a global scale.

Climate change is just one of many environmental issues in which humans play a causative role and are significantly impacted. Others include pollution, the increasing scarcity of water, and food insecurity – some of which can also be tied to climate change. It is true that many governments, companies, and NGOs are now working to address, mitigate, and even adapt to climate change.

Moreover, understanding of anthropogenic effects, discussions amongst citizens, governments, and companies, and programs to reduce human impacts on the environment are not only seen in the domain of policy makers and companies, but they are increasingly being infused into university activities and curricula as well. More than 21 million students were enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education in 2013 (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). Many universities are taking steps to increase their efforts and not only become more sustainable themselves, but also to increase student knowledge about environmental impacts. Ohio State University, for example, has instituted a sustainability learning community that allows students to be actively involved in sustainability events across campus and to learn about sustainability with faculty members and partnering businesses (Ohio State University, 2014). The University of Maryland has an initiative termed “PALS”, or Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability, which works with local government agencies to assist with implementing sustainability efforts (National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, 2014).

Many of these efforts have been catalogued: the College Sustainability Report Card evaluated 322 schools in the U.S. in 2011, and determined that 75% of the participating schools had full-time staff dedicated to sustainability initiatives and education, over half of them have made commitments to achieving carbon neutrality, and 52% have on-site wind, solar, or geothermal energy production (College Sustainability Report Card, 2011).

However, how much do college and university efforts really impact student attitudes and behaviors? How much of the student population can be reached at each school? Some studies have attempted to answer these questions, and to determine how students perceive sustainability. For example, Richard and Adams (2011) compared views of campus sustainability by students at public universities in Alabama and Hawaii. Hawaii has been denoted as the fourth greenest state in the U.S., whereas Alabama the 48th; their study attempted to ascertain whether or not there was a link between the overall rank of the state and the perceptions of college students. Their study found that respondents from both states were concerned about waste and pollution, and were quite similar on their views about who is responsible for sustainability and the environment. However, a large proportion of students from Hawaii expressed willingness to participate in sustainable practices, whereas Alabama students were more reluctant (Richard and Adams, 2011). Other studies have found similar results. Overall, it appears that today’s students understand that there is a need for improved sustainability and waste control, and the need to reduce environmental impacts, but discrepancies arise regarding who should take responsibility for these actions, and how sustainable concepts should be implemented.

What about students in the Midwest? Iowa State University, the authors’ home institution, has also made commitments to improve its environmental footprint. This effort spans operations, research, education, and outreach. The Iowa Board of Regents (the governing board for the state universities in Iowa) has approved a sustainability plan for the university, which guides the university’s sustainability policies. Included in this plan, for example, is the requirement that all new buildings and major renovations must meet or exceed the U.S. Green Building Council’s guidelines for silver level LEED certification (Board of Regents, 2009). The university currently has six LEED-certified buildings with eight additional projects in progress. The combined energy portfolio of the university must include at least 10% from renewable sources. The university must also encourage recycling on campus, and will promote reuse, repurposing, and recycling of surplus items from laboratories, offices, and classrooms. The university has been reducing emissions in its campus vehicle fleet through the use of E85 and biodiesel fuels, and has been increasing the number of flux fuel, hybrid, and electric vehicles in the vehicle pool (Board of Regents, 2009). Recently, the university installed a 100-kW wind turbine, and it also purchases electricity from a wind farm, both of which produced ~9% of the university’s electricity in 2013 (Iowa State University Utility Services, 2014a). Just this past year, ISU installed solar panels for research and data collection on solar viability, and due to student motivation and innovation, brought multiple disciplines on campus together to collude in creating a campus-wide bike share program (ISU Relations office, 2016; ISU College of Engineering, 2015).

In addition, Iowa State University has developed an Energy Dashboard, which allows anyone with a web browser to see real-time energy use (and historic use) for any building on campus, as well as the university as a whole (Iowa State University Utility Services, 2014b). It depicts, both in real time and historical (weekly and yearly), the total amount of energy being used in most buildings on campus, and in doing so allows users to dynamically view the source of a building’s electricity, whether the source is provided by the Iowa State power plant, is purchased from the Ames power plant, or from the wind farm north of Ames.

As faculty on this campus who work in Environmental Studies and Sustainability issues, we wanted to know: do the students know about these efforts? Do these efforts toward reducing ISU’s environmental footprint filter down to the individual student as well? If so, how is the individual student impacted? How can the university provide more information about its sustainability efforts? What are the conservation practices of students? How could the university provide more information and training regarding environmental impacts? What additional practices would students like the university to implement so that the university could become even more sustainable, or help students live more “green” lives? Our study aimed to answer these questions.


After approval by the Iowa State University (ISU) Institutional Review Board, an online survey was emailed to all undergraduate (n = 28,893) and graduate students (n = 4,950) at ISU using the Qualtrics survey system. A questionnaire was developed which contained 43 close-ended and 35 open-ended questions, 78 questions total (see Appendix for the survey instrument which was distributed to the students). The close-ended questions were provided to obtain numerical data about the students and their perceptions, whereas the open-ended questions allowed them to elaborate on their answers. Broadly, the survey encompassed four main categories: 1) demographics; 2) personal attitudes, perceptions, and habits; 3) what they knew (or think they knew) about environmental issues; 4) what ISU could do to help them learn more about sustainability and to improve their personal environmental footprints.

At the outset, we fully understood that students receive many university-based and other emails and types of communications on a daily basis, so a priori our expectations for a high response rate were low. Our initial emailed request for participation was followed up with three reminder emails (one per week), so overall the survey was available for completion for a duration of four weeks. As expected, the response rate was fairly low. We recognize that this is a limitation of the study, and it may be difficult to generalize for all students at this university, but we must emphasize that, at least in this exploratory phase of our research, our results were quite revealing. Lessons learned from this study will help us develop a more targeted survey in the future.

A total of 1,226 students completed (or substantially completed) the survey instrument, which equated to an effective response rate of approximately 3.5% of all ISU students. Of those respondents, 848 students were enrolled as undergraduates, while 298 were graduate students. Of the total respondents, 521 were male (45%), and 624 (54%) were female.

All numerical results were statistically analyzed using Microsoft Excel, whereas the open-ended questions were summarized according to theme. The first two portions of our survey will be discussed in this paper; the other two segments are the subject of another article currently under development (Rosentrater and Burke). A third article analyzing student responses to questions that asked them to reflect on their personal contributions to environmental damage and any actions they take to mitigate those impacts is forthcoming from Climate Change: Impacts and Responses (Burke and Rosentrater, 2017).

Results and Discussion

1) Demographics

Looking at an overview of the students who responded to the survey (Figure 1) is quite enlightening. Out of the 1126 respondents, 1134 majors were reported (due to double majoring by a handful of the students). The colleges with the highest responses were Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Engineering. Liberal Arts and Sciences also had a fairly large response to the survey. Chemical and Mechanical Engineering individually were the highest reporting majors. In fact, Mechanical Engineering is the largest major at ISU by student population, while Chemical Engineering is also one of the largest majors within the College of Engineering. Further, it should be noted that there were several majors that had some relationship with environmental issues (e.g., Agronomy, Biology, and Environmental Science all had high rates of response). Perhaps this was due, at least in part, to inherent interest that students in these majors may have had in the issues covered by this survey. Additionally, 396 minors were reported for the 1126 respondents (35% of respondents). The highest reported minors were Agronomy, Spanish, and Sustainability – which again, may explain participating in the survey.

When this survey was administered, males comprised 56% of the ISU population whereas females accounted for 44% of the overall student population (Iowa State University Office of the Registrar, 2014a). The university-wide male-to-female ratio was inverted, however, vis-à-vis respondents to our survey. The higher level of female respondents may, in fact, impact our survey results – in favor of belief that climate change is being caused by humans. This trend can also be seen in recent polls that found approximately 60% of U.S. women believe that climate change is human-caused compared to only ~40% of U.S. men (Saad, 2014). At the time of survey distribution, graduate students made up only 14.6% while undergraduates accounted for 85.4% of the overall student population (Iowa State University Office of the Registrar, 2014b). Because this survey had a much higher graduate student representation compared to their actual proportion of the student body, the survey results may be impacted due to graduate students possessing knowledge acquired elsewhere or through additional experience. We had no way to gauge these impacts, however.

At the time of the survey, 21.5% of ISU students lived in campus residence halls (Iowa State University Department of Residence, 2014). This level was almost exactly the same percentage (21%) of respondents who indicated that they lived in residence halls in the survey. Additionally, 56% of respondents reported that they lived in apartments (either within the Department of Residence or external to the university), while 22% of respondents indicated that they lived off campus but not in an apartment (which was most likely in a house or other arrangement).

In 2014 Iowa residents comprised 58.8% of all students at ISU, whereas non-Iowa students from the United States made up 29.6% of students, and international students were 11.6% of the student population (Iowa State University Office of the Registrar, 2014a). The respondents to this survey mirrored this distribution: 56% of respondents were from Iowa; 36% of respondents were from the U.S. but from outside Iowa; 8% were from outside the U.S.

Figure 1. Demographics of survey respondents.

Shortly after the close of the online survey, the March 6, 2015, Gallup poll on political party affiliation indicated that 27% of their respondents identified themselves as Republican, 28% identified as Democrat, while 44% identified as Independent (Gallup, 2015). Respondents to our survey were somewhat similar to that reported by Gallup: 24% Republican vs. 25% Democrat. The rest of our responses were somewhat different from the Gallup results; 19% identified as Independent, 6% as Libertarian, 3% as Other, and 22% as None. Our results were likely more diverse because we included Libertarian, Other, and None as categories, whereas the Gallup poll did not. Thus, fewer of our respondents identified as Independent, but over one-fifth of them indicated that they did not identify with any particular political affiliation.

2) Attitudes, Perceptions, and Habits

A large portion of our survey (20 questions) centered on attitudes, perceptions, and habits of the students. Some of their numerical responses are summarized in Figure 2. As shown, 42% of the 1126 students indicated that they believed that climate change was happening; 2% of all respondents did not believe in climate change; 56% of students did not answer this question. We speculate that perhaps the majority were unsure and so chose not to answer the question. Therefore, considering those who did respond, the majority (95.2%) did believe that climate change was real, while only 4.8% did not. A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicated that approximately 61% of Americans believe that the climate is changing, and that percent is relatively stable across generations (Motel, 2014). Why did our student body respond at a higher level? Hopefully it is because they are learning about these issues in school, perhaps in high school and/or at ISU. And, if the majority students understand that the climate is changing and that it has an impact on their lives, hopefully they will be more likely to change their own personal behaviors.

What did the students think was causing the climate to change? As shown in Figure 2, 45% of the students responded that humans were responsible; 35% that natural processes were responsible; 77% that it was a combination; 2% that climate change was not actually happening.

The students obtained their information about the environment and climate change from a variety of sources. In fact, no single source dominated. As shown in Figure 2, traditional news media, Internet sites, classes, and family/friends were the primary sources of information for the students. Ironically, both “my own opinion/experience” and government reports were chosen by 30% of the students. Apart from traditional television news, other news sources that were frequently listed included the New York Times, National Geographic, and the Huffington Post. Additionally, both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report were listed multiple times. There were a wide variety of responses listed for those who selected Internet sources. These included NASA, EPA, USDA, and NOAA/NWS in terms of government agencies. Other sources included 350.org and TED talks. A number of respondents also indicated they read scientific literature on the issue and some had even done their own research on the topic. Social media was not listed as one of the top sources for environmental information. However, the high number of respondents who indicated that they received some information from their friends and family means that these issues are being discussed by about one-third of the respondents.

Students were then asked if they thought that conservation was important. Nearly every student who answered this question responded that they believed that conservation was important. Some indicated that conservation should be economically viable and not hurt the people it’s trying to protect. It is true that this was a broad question, but the general consensus was that it is important, and the students seemed to realize that efforts must be undertaken in order to ensure that future generations are not harmed.

Figure 2. Overall student attitudes, perceptions, and habits.

We then asked a series of questions regarding responsibility and actions to improve the environment. When asked if they had a personal role in contributing to climate change, or if it was the university’s role to adjust its actions, 461 respondents indicated that they believed it should be a combination between personal action and action taken by the university, 70 indicated that they believed only a personal role should be taken, and 47 indicated that they believed only the university should take action. Verbatim sample responses (including spelling errors) are provided in Table 1. Some respondents expressed concern that the university could do more to encourage sustainable practices, such as providing more recycling and composting opportunities, and that it has a responsibility to provide those services to the student body. Many responses suggested that the university’s responsibility should be to provide services for students but it is the students’ responsibility to use those services. Students indicated that they felt that the university has the ability to take actions on a broader level, which will have an overarching effect on the university community as a whole. Individuals do not have that ability and therefore cannot effect as wide ranging of an impact on the university community. Still, many recognized that they have a responsibility to adjust their individual actions.

Table 1. Sample responses for personal role vs. university role.

More broadly, who should take responsibility for making changes to combat climate change? All respondents strongly felt that individuals, companies, and communities (>92%), but also governments (89%), and non-profit corporations (79%), bear this responsibility (Figure 2). The respondents clearly understood that the major contributors to climate change (companies and individuals), and governments and communities (who set and implement policies and regulations), all must work together.

In terms of what each individual can do to combat climate change, a wide variety of responses were given (Table 2 provides a sample of student responses). Out of 652 responses, several common themes arose organically. A number of respondents suggested voting for politicians who support for clean energy programs and “green” policy. Others suggested buying only products that are produced sustainably and from companies who are environmentally friendly. Many respondents said that each person should change their lifestyles and become more conscientious about how personal decisions affect the environment. Several suggested carpooling as a way to reduce one’s carbon footprint, while many others suggested that individuals should drive less, take public transportation, or buy more fuel efficient cars. Several mentioned adjusting their diets as a way to be more sustainable, in addition to eating local foods, eating less meat, and eating less processed foods. Several responses mentioned the fact that it is the small, every-day decisions they make that have the largest impacts on the environment and are the easiest to change to reduce that impact. Several respondents listed making houses more energy efficient and adjusting the thermostat to reduce energy consumption. Many respondents also mentioned using reusable bags for groceries instead of using plastic bags. The largest response, 223 out of the 652 respondents (34%), listed recycling as a way for individuals to impact the environment. As one respondent said, we need to stop the “buy and throw away culture.” Unfortunately, this is far easier said than done in our country.

Table 2. Sample responses for what individuals can do to combat climate change.

When asked what companies can do to combat the effects of climate change, 628 students answered this question. Respondents strongly believed that companies have a responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. As can be seen in some sample responses (Table 3), comments ranged from reducing water and energy use within facilities, to reducing the amount of packaging on products, and correctly labeling products as “green.” Many responses asserted that companies should focus on their environmental impact, and that more emphasis should be placed on long-term sustainability rather than on short-term profits.

Table 3. Sample responses for what..

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Rodgers Krcmar JSE Dec 20 2017 General


Students not specifically focusing in science, sustainability or environmental studies represent a large audience who often lack environmental literacy and feel disconnected from the natural world around them (Becker, 1997). Environmental literacy comprises an awareness of and concern about the environment and its associated problems, as well as the knowledge, skills, and motivations to work toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones (NAAEE 2004). Engaging non-majors in learning environmental science concepts, observing and recognizing nature around them, and shifting their attitudes and behavior toward the environment can be challenging and often requires a multi-perspective approach.

It is critical for future business leaders to be aware of environmental issues and recognize how the choices they make will impact nature and human communities. Teaching business students the importance of sustainability and how/why to value nature can sometimes be difficult, but it is also a chance to engage in interdisciplinary learning and to provide critical and integrative thinking opportunities. There is increasing recognition that to be effective problem-solvers, all students must learn to integrate information from different disciplines (Brewer, 1999). In the past we have had success in shifting mindsets when creating innovative interdisciplinary exercises for our business students to learn sustainability concepts (Lester and Rodgers, 2012; Rodgers, 2013; Rodgers, 2015).

The field of botany (study of plants) provides the opportunity to teach important scientific concepts, address environmental and social issues, while also attempting to increase the visibility and awareness of the natural world. It has been found that students often have limited exposure to learning botany in high school (Hershey, 1996) and many do not notice the plants around them, resulting in the spread of “plant blindness” (Wandersee & Schussler, 1999). This pervasive plant blindness stems from a societal preference to detect, appreciate and empathize with fauna over flora (Bozniak 1994; Wandersee and Schussler 2001) and is due at least in part to a greater focus on animals in formal biology education (Balding and Williams 2016). Unfortunately, plant blindness leads to a lack of valuing plants as well as a chronic underfunding of plant conservation efforts (Kramer et al. 2010).
Since the visual arts are widely recognized as being effective in communicating issues, influencing people, and challenging accepted paradigms (Belfiore & Bennett, 2007), it can be a valuable tool for sustainability education (Thomsen, 2015). In addition, there have been recent calls to break down boundaries and connect science and art, especially in higher education and outreach (McKibben, 2005; Curtis et al., 2012; Inwood & Taylor, 2012). STEAM is a growing movement to integrate the arts into science, technology, engineering and math education, and it is fueled by both the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education (Robelen, 2011). During a time when environmental educators are seeking new and more effective ways to convey complex environmental issues, the field of art education offers innovative and alternative ways to reach students (Inwood & Taylor, 2012).

Scientists consistently use and create visualizations as a means of representing new relationships, testing hypotheses, and explaining knowledge (LaTour, 1999; Gilbert, 2005; Nersessian, 2008). Although interpretation of visualizations and other information is clearly critical to learning, becoming proficient in science also requires learners to develop many observational and representational skills. Because it is an active process that caters to individual learner differences, drawing enhances student engagement and provides the opportunity for students to develop visual literacy in the varied conventions of representation. Unlike other constructive strategies such as writing reports or providing oral self-explanations, visual representations have distinct attributes that match the visual spatial demands of much of science learning (Ainsworth et al., 2011). It has been found that simply changing a student’s sensitivity to environmental issues can be critical to shaping how individuals consider the environmental and social implications of their decisions (Cordano et al., 2003) and that artistic images can be one effective way to do this (Blasch & Turner, 2015). In 1969 Sol Lewitt stated that “Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions” (Stiles & Selz, 1996). Arts-based inquiry has been found to make the linear narratives, common in traditional research, more complex (Leitch, 2006). Engaging with art, as artist and/or as viewer, can affect environmental behavior by creating an emotional affinity with nature, developing a cognitive interest in nature, and/or provoking emotional indignation about environmental harm (Curtis, 2009). Bringing art’s powerful ability to engage audiences with multiple dimensions of an issue to sustainability education diversifies the type of learning that might take place, increasing the likelihood that the learning will ‘stick’ with a wider range of students (Dunaway, 2009).

We report here on a unique in-class workshop and written reflection exercise we developed to: (1) interest our students in learning botanical concepts, (2) engage our students in careful observation and visualization of nature, and (3) increase the environmental sensitivity of students by connecting science and nature based art. We asked students to view, create (through drawing and painting) and conceptualize (in writing) works of botanical art as a multi-perspectival process of engaging with relevant scientific processes and sustainability concerns connected to botany.

Babson College is a private 4-year college in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with a student body size of roughly 2,100. The class of 2020 is 47% female, 29% international, and 43% U.S. students of color (Babson College, 2017). Upon graduation all students receive a B.S. in business administration, with at least half of their credits earned in liberal arts and science courses. Currently these disciplines are taught separately to students and the expectation is that they will be able to take information learned from one class and apply it within a different class. Unfortunately, such interdisciplinary connections and integrative thinking are passively assumed by educators, but rarely realized by students (Rhoten, 2004; Klein, 2005).

While at Babson students can choose to earn a concentration within their business major by taking four courses focusing on one particular area. Options for the concentrations range from Entrepreneurship or Finance to Gender Studies or Literary and Visual Arts. In 2011 the Environmental Sustainability (ES) concentration was created. This concentration requires that students take one core environmental science-based course, developing their understanding of nature and current environmental problems, and then three elective courses from a list, including courses in science, humanities, business and economics. Economic Botany is one course that fulfills the elective requirement.

The Economic Botany (SCN 3630) course was designed as a new science elective course for Babson College in 2009 and since this time it has been taught roughly once a year to a full class of 25 students. Economic botany is a relatively recent field of study that analyzes the past, present and future uses of plants by people (SEB 2017), and therefore is inherently interdisciplinary. Our Economic Botany course is designed to investigate the relationships between plant biology and anthropology, and it provides a combination of natural science with business application that is appealing for our business students. The primary objectives of the course are to (1) explain how plants grow and reproduce, (2) identify and explain the purpose of the major parts of a plant, (3) discuss the primary roles for plants in society, (4) analyze the future role of plants in business, and (5) identify sustainable and unsustainable practices using plants. The course is taught with a clear focus on sustainability and plant conservation, emphasizing both environmental literacy and systems-based ecological literacy (Goodwin, 2016) Topics such as deforestation, biopiracy of medicinal plants, sustainable plant-based materials, biomimicry, and phytoremediation discussed throughout the semester. The course begins by exploring how plants grow and reproduce, the different structures within plants, and the incredible plant diversity around the world. The majority of the course focuses on examining plants as potential sustainable sources of food, materials/textiles, perfumes, medicines, pollution remediators, carbon sequesters, and vital producers of ecosystem services. Throughout the course we discuss the roles plants have played in different cultures by influencing language, arts, religion, and economics.

We first combined an art workshop and lecture into the Economic Botany class in 2011 and repeated this activity in 2012. Then in 2014 we re-designed it to include an informational pre-class assignment, an in-class botanical art workshop, and a post-class written reflection, which we repeated in 2016. The pre-class assignment allowed us to utilize a ‘flipped classroom style’ (Mazur, 2009) so students were responsible for reading through a slide lecture and researching the lecture material on the botanical artists on their own before class, thereby opening up the class time for hands-on, active learning exercises. Having the students review the presentation on their own allowed them to select one or two artists and research the work that interested them most in more depth.

In order to provide a sample of the breadth of media and subject matter explored within the category of botanical art, the prepared slide lecture introduced the work of 26 artists (Table 1). The artists selected also took a broad range of approaches to their use and representation of plants, plant life cycles, and scientific processes. Some of the artists used plant imagery and plant materials to ask questions about what is natural or unnatural, engage issues of spirituality and mortality, while others used the plants to work in collaboration with community members to address environmental issues such as erosion, invasive species, and the production of sustainable fibers and clothing. The slide lecture represented artwork in a wide range of media from drawing, painting, photography, mixed media collage, video, installation, sculpture, ceramics, fiber, quilts, and community based artwork, i.e. social practice (Table 1). We selected a few well-known historic artists such as Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Georgia O’Keefe, but focused mainly on contemporary artists with international reputations. We also included New England based artists such as Lina Maria Giraldo, Deb Todd Wheeler, Thomas Matsuda, and Alison Williams, all four of whom have exhibited work at Babson College (Table 1).

Table 1: Description of artists and their work that the students were introduced to within the pre-class slide show.

Rodgers KrcMar Table 1 PDF

The workshop during class was an in-depth and hands-on activity where students were encouraged to bring in botanical structures (or they could choose from some that were collected for them) and learn to observe them carefully through drawing them. In doing this careful observation, students sketched the objects on paper using plant derived art materials such as vine charcoal, walnut ink, and botanically extracted paints from basil, pomegranate, plums, etc. (Figure 1). The processes involved in the production of paper, the walnut ink and charcoal were described during the workshop as a means of overtly connecting the plant sources to the art materials used. This was also referenced at various later points in the course.

Figure 1: Walnut ink, bamboo brushes, sharpened twigs and charcoal used in the botanical art workshop in class (Photo Credit: VL Rodgers).

As most of the students were novices in artistic expression, we started by doing three introductory drawing exercises. They began with a blind contour drawing (Figure 2): where the student looks only at the botanical subject and not at his/her drawing on the paper in order to slow down and shift the focus to the processes of looking and seeing, rather than the completed drawing product as a means of deepening the level of observation. We found that students initially had difficulty with this, it is counter-intuitive and challenging to not look at one’s paper while making a drawing, but after a few tries, many started to notice different shapes, lines and details of their objects. The second exercise was a gesture drawing: where the student focuses on the quick representation of the general overall form rather than the details. This drawing was timed and forced students to quickly gather an overall observation or general view from their object. Lastly the students used a gesture drawing as the basis for a more developed drawing, allowing them to start with general forms and proportions that could be refined to greater clarity before fleshing out the details (Figure 3). This multi-stepped drawing exercise was designed to promote close observation, documentation, communication, and self-reflection in the students’ understanding of the botanical subject.

Figure 2: Our students participating in the blind contour drawing exercise within the botanical art workshop in class, looking closely at their botanical subjects but not at the paper they were drawing on. (Photo Credit: VL Rodgers).

As a way of reinforcing the careful observation and science-art integration from the botanical art workshop, throughout the remainder of the course students were periodically given flowers, fruits, leaves or seeds to dissect, draw, and label with botanical terms. In addition, during one fieldtrip to local greenhouses, students were asked to select two plants to sketch with a close-up careful observation of one part as well as a quick overall sketch and include as many botanical terms, details and careful observations as possible. Although specific metrics were not collected for each class, we noticed that during the years that we ran the botanical art exercise (roughly 25 students participated in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2016), students tended to include greater detail and demonstrate more careful observation, often including multiple views and better botanical labeling, as compared to prior years.

Figure 3: Our students participating in the more detailed drawing exercises within the botanical art workshop in class (Photo Credit: VL Rodgers).

As a way to gauge how the students perceived their own learning and enjoyment with the art activities on the last day of the 2014 course we gave the students a three question paper survey to fill out and return anonymously. The first two questions were statements that asked students to respond whether they ‘strongly agreed’, ‘agreed’, ‘felt neutral’, ‘disagreed’, or ‘strongly disagreed’ with the following statements: (1) Overall the art and the artistic perspectives helped me in understanding the botanical concepts/scientific processes, and (2) As a student not majoring in either science or art, I enjoyed blending science with art to learn botany. The third question was open-ended and asked students to briefly write down any observations they had after participating in the botanical art workshop. In compliance with the college’s Institutional Review Board, students were informed of the study protocol and those willing to participate anonymously completed the questionnaire.

Drawing to learn science has been a critical technique in larger attempts to have students learn inductively (Lerner, 2007). Data have shown that active learning, which drawing can be considered to be a part, increases student performance in science (Freeman et al. 2014). Through drawing, students visually demonstrate their depth of understanding of scientific forms and concepts. Although this is a small group, 14 out of 19 students responded that overall they perceived that the art and artistic perspectives helped them in understanding the botanical concepts/scientific processes (agreed or strongly agreed; Figure 4). In addition, 16 out of 19 students agreed or strongly agreed that as a student not majoring in either science or art, they enjoyed blending science with art (Figure 4).

Figure 4: In a written survey, the number of students responding whether they ‘strongly agreed’, ‘agreed’, ‘felt neutral’ or ‘disagreed’ with the following statements: (1) Overall the art and the artistic perspectives helped me in understanding the botanical concepts/scientific processes, and (2) As a student not majoring in either science or art, I enjoyed blending science with art to learn the botany.

In the open-ended question a majority of student responses demonstrated an appreciation of the details and complexities of plants. Below are some representative statements from individual students when asked to write down any observations they had after participating in the botanical art workshop:

“It was very helpful to see the unique intricacies up close and personal”
“It allowed me to observe the finer details of the plant and appreciate how complex they are.”
“It helped me see the scientific parts of the plant more clearly”
“By looking at different angles and focusing on different plant parts I was able to see plants details more easily rather than focusing on the overall appearance of it.”
“It really helped me consider the details of the whole plant, not just what you have pictured when you hear the word onion for instance”
“I have been seeing different things outside and thinking how they could be used as art materials”
“I’ve thought about constructing something artistic/furniture from pieces of wood”
“See more art and beauty in plants now and pay more attention to detail (leaf shape, grooves in bark, etc.)”
“When we went to the Wellesley greenhouses it showed me the variety of plants and how different they can truly be”

We also assigned a post-class written reflection as a way for students to demonstrate any increased understanding or environmental sensitivity that may have come from connecting botany and nature based art. This written reflection asked students to give some thought to a botanical art project they might like to make if they had full access to any materials.  Students were asked to describe (1) what they would make, (2) how they would make it, and (3) why they would make it, or what would it represent? These reflections were limited to 2 typed pages. After grading the reflections as an assignment for the course, students were then individually asked for consent in anonymously including their responses in our study.

Three of the artists whose work students responded strongly to were: Steve Aishman, Thomas Matsuda, and Alison Williams. For his photographic series “Superflowers”, Steve Aishman successfully grafted completely different species of flowers onto one root stock. The resultant flower photographs appear to have been photo shopped but are actually the unaltered representations of the living grafted plants. Thomas Matsuda, is a contemporary sculptor who apprenticed 12 years with renowned traditional Buddhist Sculptor Kouko Eri. Matsuda’s wood and stone carvings and rubbing drawings speak to the temporal quality of life while also revealing specific scientific details of tree anatomy. Alison Williams creates installation, sculpture constructions, and mixed media pieces that take inspiration from the garden and utilize its natural cycles of germination, growth, and eventual decay. Williams buries some of her canvases and photographs in the garden for several months, integrating decomposition into the creative process and turning the New Hampshire weather into a collaborator.

In the written reflections, 9 out of 17 students referred to at least one artist from the pre-class presentation as a starting point or influence in the imagining of their own piece of botanical art (Table 2). There were 5 strong examples of students combining art and science. Two students proposed projects that would simultaneously showcase plant diversity and different stages of the plant life cycle, both utilizing a garden as the framework. One, influenced by the carvings of Thomas Matsuda, proposed that he might make a wood carving of a sunflower, thus representing a common plant (a sunflower), using materials from a tree. He specifically highlighted the recreation of a living organism (spiritually) through a dead organism (old wood from a tree). His piece represents the plant cycle when dead plants are consumed by the soil to create more nutrients for a new plant to grow. Another student, influenced by Alison Williams, proposed slide dissections of a set group of plants as a means of displaying the active anatomy of the plants above and below ground. Another student proposed creating a partial field guide series of paintings of coastal plants that grow from New England to Maryland as a sort of homage to his grandmother who had painted seascapes off the coast of Long Island (Table 2).

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Summerfield Wells JSE Dec 2017 General Issue

This ‘blindspot’ concerns not the what and how – not what leaders do and how they do it – but the who: who we are and the inner place or source from which we operate, both individually and collectively.
-Senge, Jaworski, Scharmer and Flowers (Senge et al., 2005)

In his 1913 autobiography, President Theodore Roosevelt declared:

Gifford Pinchot is the man to whom the nation owes most for what has been accomplished as regards the preservation of the natural resources of our country. He led, and indeed during its most vital period embodied, the fight for the preservation through use of our forests …. He was the foremost leader in the great struggle to coordinate all our social and governmental forces in the effort to secure the adoption of a rational and far-seeing policy for securing the conservation of all our national resources. … I believe it is but just to say that among the many, many public officials who under my administration rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United States, he, on the whole, stood first (Roosevelt, 1913).

Almost a century later Pinchot’s biographer, Char Miller, titled his book Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (Miller, 2001). At least two things are apparent from these headline introductions to Pinchot. Firstly, they suggest that he was responsible for setting in place a system for sustainable management of the nation’s natural resources that took account of the social and organizational as well as the physical components of that innovation. Secondly, they imply that early twentieth century innovation contained lessons for sustainability that resonate well into the present.

Pinchot came to national prominence under the presidency of arguably the greatest champion of the natural environment in US history. They shared a conservation ethic which sought to balance the interests of nature and humans in ways that promoted the sustainability of both without privileging either (Steen, 2001). Pinchot established the US Forest Service and became its first Chief in 1905. While the preservation and expansion of the nation’s forests had been a major concern of the country’s leading foresters since the 1870s, none of his predecessors was able to secure the organizational structure – still in place today – that ensured the place of sustainable forestry as a national concern. Pinchot went on to pursue the sustainable use of many of the country’s other natural resources and to embrace a range of social justice issues in a political career that included two gubernatorial incumbencies in Pennsylvania. He died in 1946 still deeply committed to the view that issues of natural and social sustainability need to be resolved based on the ethical principle of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number…in the long run’.

How did Pinchot come to be such an influential thought leader of sustainability of natural resources and of organizations charged with that task? What learning forces shaped him? And does his educational story offer lessons for teaching sustainability leadership today?

This paper looks at Pinchot’s formation by mapping his early learning environment. Miller’s illuminating biography of Pinchot includes insightful and intriguing details about the young child’s and man’s education (Miller, 2001). The aim here is to extend those insights. The premise is that the foundation of leadership begins early, so that an examination of the education of successful environmental leaders can contribute to an understanding of their adult capacities.  Examining how successful leaders of sustainability, such as Pinchot, learned to learn enables us to remember what we have forgotten about essential educational principles for the development of effective leaders. History too can demonstrate its ability to contribute to twenty-first century sustainability education.

The importance of early education for leadership

Gifford Pinchot c. 1869 (courtesy of US Forest Service)

Peter Senge, a prominent scholar and trainer in leadership at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written extensively on the need to reform industrial age assumptions about both leadership and education. Together with colleagues Scharmer, Flowers, and Jaworski, he has identified the all too common focus on examining the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of leadership practice (Senge et al, 2005). What’s missing, they say, is a much deeper examination of the ‘who’ of the leader: the operating, often hidden assumptions they use, the operating, often hidden value systems that shape them. The most effective leaders of sustainable organizations and of environmental sustainability, they argue, are those who have learned to see their physical and social environments as wholes rather than in parts. Such leaders have also learned to see and value themselves in wholes: not simply as rational beings, but as feeling and sensing beings as well. Other scholars, such as Ron Heifetz, confirm the primary attribute of successful, adaptive leadership as the ability to ‘getting on the balcony’, to see the big picture, that is to comprehend in wholes (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997). Senge, in particular, acknowledges that while this holistic external and internal vision can be learned later, teaching and learning these skills young is the ideal. There is considerable contemporary evidence-based educational research that aims to remedy the fragmented, linear thinking that Senge points to as a legacy of the industrial age. This research includes significant work on sustainability education (Senge, Laur, Schley & Smith, 2006). But often overlooked as evidence are historical narratives of the learning journeys of successful leaders of our past, perhaps because it is assumed that they too suffered at the hands of industrial-age educational methods. This omission means we miss out on the contribution such completed stories can make by grounding the often abstract and present focused language of innovation in real-life evidence.

Pinchot’s story: beginnings

Gifford Pinchot c. 1872 (courtesy of US Forest Service)

Gifford Pinchot was born on 11 August 1865, in Simsbury, Connecticut, months after the end of the Civil War. His parents were James and Mary Eno Pinchot. Their principal residence was in New York, where James had made a fortune in interior design. Mary’s wealth derived from her father Amos’s substantial commercial success in the dry goods business.

James was originally from Milford, Pennsylvania, the son and grandson of political refugees from Napoleonic France. Constantine and Maria, with their son Cyrille, arrived in America in 1816 with sufficient capital and entrepreneurial acumen to thrive. Cyrille was an astute land speculator (Miller, 1999). He acquired extensive holdings throughout north-eastern Pennsylvania and New York State, and later in Michigan and Wisconsin, and was to be Milford’s largest tax payer for some time. But by the 1850s his older children, including second son James, were forced to leave town to make their own way elsewhere because of the town’s declining economic prospects. They did so in New York. Here James not only thrived commercially but did so by embracing the new artistic interests offered by the burgeoning metropolis (Miller, 1999). He manufactured and bought interior furnishings in New York and Pennsylvania, and imported others from England and Europe. In so doing he began the family’s reconnection with its French origins, and political and cultural inheritance. With his wealth, urban cultural context and aesthetic interests, James became a patron of the arts. One of his artist friends was Sanford Gifford, a member of the later generation of the Hudson River School (Miller, 1999). James’ and Mary’s son was Sanford’s godson and namesake. A hint of the civic-minded citizenship that was to inform the education of young Gifford is contained in his godfather’s life and work.

Sanford Gifford had fought and lost two brothers in the Civil War (Richardson, 2014). Lung damage James sustained in the 1850s prevented him from participating in the War, but he followed it closely and avidly. Sanford later painted ‘Hunter Mountain, Twilight’. It was bought by James and remained in the family’s possession, occupying a prominent place in their homes throughout Gifford’s life. Many commentators see its depiction of the ravaged landscape as a visual story of the clear-felling of Pennsylvania forests in which the Pinchots participated with great profit. Others interpret it as a metaphor for the extraordinary human waste that war had wrought. James would strive to be instrumental in redeeming both the realist and metaphorical depictions of the painting. Their son’s name was an indicator that James and Mary wanted him to play a part in this civic and environmental activity.

Amos Eno’s move into New York real estate included the construction of an exclusive hotel on Fifth Avenue that served also as a residence for the extended family. Mary’s participation as a young woman in her twenties in New York cultural life exposed her to the same influences as James. The impact of the Civil War on her too is indicated by the substantial collection of letters she kept from her aunt, Mary Phelps, married to her mother’s brother John. The Phelps had moved ‘out west’ to Missouri in the 1830s, where John Phelps would eventually become a highly progressive Governor. While her husband and son were on the battlefield, her aunt set up the family home as a hospital, moving from there with a wagon of supplies to the front to nurse when her husband and son were in the frontline of battle.

The impact of catastrophic war on the family contrasted with a mostly joyous personal life: a marriage of sympathetic souls, the birth of a first son in 1865, the births of two daughters, Lucy and Antoinette in 1867 and 1868, and the birth of second son Amos in 1873 (Carrs, 1981). The one sadness in this notably contented family life was the untimely death of daughter Lucy in 1869. The decision to move the family to Paris in July 1871 exposed it to further national tragedy. The significant American community in the capital had been depleted during the exile that followed the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing Commune. James and Mary arrived soon after it became possible again for Americans to live in the city again. The stark reality of the physical and social destruction in Paris was all around them. From this base James commuted for business, before eventually retiring early in 1877 to commit his life to public service (Miller, 2001). Such exposure to war-ravaged societies over the course of a decade had an inevitable impact on the upbringing of their young family. It was of course made more profound by James’ familial connection, by his return to the birthplace of his father’s and grandfather’s French republicanism. James’ later involvement in the construction of the Statue of Liberty and its pedestal offers one practical outcome of this period of the integration of his French and American political inheritance, and the hopes he had for the rebuilding of both societies to reflect the democratic principles of their foundations.

Educating Gifford: contributing to the re-invention of the nation

Gifford’s early years and education were experienced in the context of these times of heightened political and personal intensity. They were also influenced by James’ awareness of the educational reform movements of the mid-nineteenth century. American intellectual leaders, particularly Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and English social philosophers, particularly Herbert Spencer, profoundly influenced James’ thinking. During the nineteenth century, Western countries came to recognise the value to their economies of an educated population. But Gifford’s education bore little resemblance to the mass, regimented style initiated by the Industrial Revolution, and which educators a century and a half later are trying to correct. In both content and pedagogy he was actively encouraged in his strengths and interests in the natural world. It would be what twenty-first century educators call ‘student-centred’.

In Paris in the early 1870s James wrote home regularly to his parents in Milford of Gifford’s morning French lessons (Pinchot, 1872). He explained how younger sister Nettie had begun to benefit from the family conversations in French in which her brother was now a participant. But French lessons were completed by ten in the morning, and outdoor activities until dinner time formed the largest part of the day’s regular schedule. Visits to the Tuileries, the Bois de Bologne or the Zoo offered fresh air and physical exercise, as well as the opportunity for investigating the world of urban nature. Visits to the Jardin in 1871, following the Communards’ burning of the Tuileries Palace, also contained striking lessons in social and political history for the young boy. Body, heart and mind were all enlisted to capture the child’s interest and promote learning.

A pocket diary of  Mary’s from 1871, with a preserved leaf and the letter-like markings of a young child on the page opposite his mother’s entry, reveals the shared activity of adult and child in James’ and Mary’s approach to Gifford’s learning. Engaging with nature and the lessons of outdoor activity, while modelling the daily disciplines of recording the events of his day were to become staples of Gifford’s life. By 1872 Gifford was working on his own diaries, and writing his own letters to relatives at home (Pinchot, 1872).

Learning across the disciplines
Between 1876 to 1879, when back in the United States, Gifford wrote regularly to his teacher as part of his school routine in a small red exercise book marked ‘Letterbook’. The educational regime of a mixture of formal indoor lessons and self-directed enquiry in the outside world continued through these years. When in 1882 James wrote to Mary to suggest they continue to keep nine-year-old Amos away from the school room for health reasons, he indicated again a parental preference for using schools as supplements to, not staples of their children’s learning. Gifford’s letters to his teacher, Mr McMullen, were on any topic that captured his interest.

Many of the letters show his enthusiastic interest in insects, in hunting and fishing, in the mechanics of vehicles, evidence of his experiential learning. By 1876 he had learned a literacy of the insect world which he was happy to describe to his teacher in this letter:

My dear teacher,
I want to tell you something about my collection of insects. This is the second year I have been at it. I have almost two hundred specimens, and when you think how many there are, this is very few, but I still have more than I thought I would have when I began. I do not confine myself strictly to these, but also take all the little curiosities I can find. I have two very nice fossils. One, a curiously shaped snail is something like this (a small, finely detailed drawing), only about five times as large… (Pinchot, 1876).

In order to communicate his point he used whatever language was available to him. If he did not know how to describe the concentric circles of a snail’s shell then he drew them .

Other letters show his developing interest in the political world, and a growing literary and linguistic understanding. In one he declared his filial as well as political connection with the French, asserting the view that the American Revolutionary War would have undoubtedly failed without the fraternal allegiance and support of France. The letter was in English but could as easily have been in French, which was by then his second language and one he continued to use while resident in the United States. If he could not translate from his French natural history book into English to relate the information he wanted to his American teacher, he relayed the information in French. He advised the teacher that he was not depending only on his capacity to collect artefacts from his surrounding neighbourhood, but was also deliberately acquiring objects of interest from other sources, in the same way that his father did: ‘the other day some furniture arrived for Papa. With it came some very nice fossils for me…’.

His interest in the natural sciences continued and with it came a growing scientific literacy. In 1878 he spent a page relaying to his teacher the gift of a microscope and how he could manipulate it to learn more detailed information about the objects of his study. Interleaved with stories of scientific enquiry were those of the hunting and fishing of larger species, which were objects both of bookish enquiry inside and of his outdoor pursuits, often accompanying his father (Pinchot, 1878).

By the early 1880s, during the family’s second extended stay in Paris, summaries of novels began to pepper the young Gifford’s letters. One retold the narrative of ‘The Peachling’, a Japanese tale that anticipated the international flavour of the notes he would write during this time. These later notes were of lectures he attended to learn more about the animal and reptile species of the world, including the peculiar versions to be found on the island continent of Australia. While the natural world would continue as his dominant interest, and with it a desire to be observing it outdoors, Gifford would also become an avid and eclectic reader, sometimes castigating himself as an adult for being consumed by a book late into the night and so compromising his efficiency the next day.

Learning about sustainable societies

Gifford’s learning benefited from active involvement in the lives of his parents’ adult friends. On February 21 1877, for example, he set out to provide his teacher with ‘a short account of the first half of my excursion with General Sherman and his staff’ (Pinchot, 1877).  (So close a family friend had Sherman become that a dedicated room was provided for him during the construction of the family home Grey Towers, in 1886.) After meeting up with the General’s party at the foot of 33rdstreet and East River, Gifford set sail with the group on the steamer ‘Henry Smith’. First stop was Willett’s Point, passing Hell Gate, where ‘all the soldiers on the wharf’ fired a salute. General Abbott, the Commandant, proceeded to give General Sherman a tour of the facilities. Gifford relates how ‘I got to go with him and so got a good deal of information’. Lunch was provided at the Commandant’s house ‘and a very good lunch it was’.  Following the meal Gifford boarded the steamer with Sherman and Abbott and sailed across to Fort Schuyler. At the end of his letter Gifford suddenly remembered that he forgot to tell his teacher the story ‘about exploding the torpedo’ but, having clearly by this time satisfied the usual length requirement of letters, he signs off abruptly ‘but I will tell you about that next time, so good bye’ (Pinchot, 1877).

Gifford imbibed the lessons of physical and spiritual courage modeled by the wartime heroism Sherman, and John and Mary Phelps. Stephen Bower wrote of Sherman’s ‘theology of the battlefield’ where he believed himself to be at war with the ‘demons of disintegration and doubt that so tormented the American soul and the angels standing guard over life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.  James Pinchot’s subsequent role in the construction of the Statue of Liberty is one indicator if his artistic and political contribution to the efforts towards restoration of the peace of the ‘American soul’. Gifford too showed signs of his understanding of the tragedy of the Civil War and the expectation that his family should be part of the effort to reshape a sustainable, civic society. In a letter three weeks before the excursion with the General, Gifford wrote to his teacher about his views on gunpowder in war. Arguing his case against he wrote,

I do not see how gunpowder can do half so much good as it has done harm. In blasting I do not see why dynamite and nitro-glycerine could not be used just as well. In war not half so many men would be killed and the victory would necessarily be won by pluck and dis[c]ipline. Just think how many lives are lost by the explosion of a single bomb shell in a body of troops, and if it were not for powder that bombshell would not be there to burst and the lives of so many men would not be lost. Think of the helpless women and children that are killed by the help of that vile invention, powder. …I leave you to judge whether it does more harm than good (Pinchot, 1877).

Student-centred schooling

Gifford’s schooling was not formalised until the age of 16 when, in December 1881, he entered New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy. While he attended schools in New York, the family’s peripatetic lifestyle made this a frequently interrupted part of his life. And even at Exeter the culture of the school was liberally student-centred. Later in life Pinchot reflected on its positive influence and the philosophical continuity from what he had learned to expect of education as a young boy. He commented that

as I grow older, and as my interest in the welfare and progress of our people broadens and deepens, I look back with steadily growing satisfaction [at] the time I spent at Exeter. The most useful thing about the school in those days . . . was the fact that it made every student responsible to himself as well as to his teachers for what he did and how he did it, and yet gave each boy the best possible chance to follow his own bent (Pinchot, 1910).

In view of the highly varied sites and settings of Gifford’s earlier education, it is not surprising that he enjoyed the eclectic atmosphere that characterised the Academy then.  On the one hand, he had been taught the basics of a classical education: French, dance, art, mathematics and literature. On the other, he was ensconced in a learning environment in which, as Char Miller put it, ‘the natural world was a consistent frame of reference in the family’s discussions’. His innate proclivities were actively encouraged and continued to gravitate strongly toward what Miller calls the ‘biotic realm’ (Miller, 2001). By seventeen he had bought an axe so that he could fell dead trees and peel the bark in search of insects. He asked his parents for his butterfly net when the season came, and began learning and recording the Latin names for the insects he was fascinated by in the notebooks he kept in Paris in 1881.

He also began to use letters home during this time to communicate a growing self-awareness. In one considering his future, he felt the responsibility of powerful family expectations for him, either in commercial or civil service. Writing to his family towards the end of his time at the Academy he gave expression to the stresses he had felt in struggling with the combination of poor eyesight and catching up to his peers in the academic work needed for entrance to Yale. He thought it best to admit temporary defeat and go to work in Amos Eno’s business for a year rather than enter Yale with the conditions he felt sure must attach to admission. But within days he regretted..

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MacKinnon, Lewis, Waller, JSE 2017 General Issue PDF

An international group of young people preparing a traditional pit-fire on the lands of the Tsawout Nation during the Elders Voices Summit (photo – Robin Haig)

Having already crossed four of the nine planetary boundaries that are considered a safe operating space for humanity (Steffen et al., 2015), we now stand at the threshold of the Anthropocene epoch. The election of a president to govern the world’s largest economy who has withdrawn his country from the Paris Climate Accord – and who has appointed to key environmental governance positions non-scientists with contrarian views on critical ecological issues – surely moves us further from the point of safety (Milman, 2016).

This article explores the work of the Alliance for Intergenerational Resilience (AIR) as one practical proposal to change some of the underlying habits of thought and action that have led us towards the Anthropocene. Conceptually, resilience is now widely deployed in academic and policy discourse, increasingly in relation to challenges facing societies in times of resource scarcity and environmental attrition. As a concept ‘resilience’ emerged in natural science and as it enters and permeates social science disciplines, its meanings and epistemological assumptions are now being debated and, at times, fiercely contested (Brown, 2014; Ribot, 2014; Olsson, Galaz, & Boonstra, 2014). This is a wide-ranging debate and in our discussion in the next section we focus on ideas of community resilience.

In this article, we discuss the work of AIR to date and conclude with some thoughts about our ongoing and future directions. [AIR was first constituted in 2015 as the International Resilience Network (IRN) but has since changed its name to reflect the growing awareness among its directors that supporting intergenerational relationships will be central to the organization’s work. Some references in the bibliography will reflect the organization’s previous name.] In particular, we focus on the Alliance’s inaugural summit, a place-based sustainability forum held on Indigenous territory in Canada and intended to build relationships and shared understandings of social-ecological resilience across culturally diverse Indigenous and settler-migrant communities. We provide an outline and rationale of AIR’s approach to nurturing social-ecological resilience and the Alliance’s vision and goals before focusing on the processes, pedagogical approaches and outcomes of the Resilient Places – Resilient Peoples: Elders’ Voices Summit (hereafter named Elders’ Voices Summit). The section on the Summit will adopt the story-telling narrative style that was central to the Summit’s pedagogical approach and which is common to indigenous learning processes. It will also be supported by comments from delegates which were given in feedback forms following the Summit.

A rationale for indigenous and inter-cultural resilience

This section outlines the rationale for AIR’s work and develops upon the idea that some Indigenous and place-based communities hold forms of social-ecological resilience that may help to mitigate critical anthropogenic impacts on the global environment. It also questions the same proposal: if resilience can be found among particular communities, then what factors and processes may have caused it to be lost elsewhere; how can such resilience be recovered among communities where it has been lost? Additionally, the section explores connections between community resilience and the project to re-indigenize all people to the Earth.

Young people from Aotearoa and Alba/Scotland worked together to prepare the pit-fire (photo – Robin Haig)

The Elders’ Voices Summit took place on the lands of Tsawout Nation of Vancouver Island in September 2015. At the conclusion of the Summit, the Alliance was constituted as a collaboration of communities, organizations and individuals with the objective of building social-ecological resilience by connecting and supporting locally based projects for the innovative and renovative co-evolution of social and ecological systems in participating regions and countries. In particular, AIR aims to support the work of Indigenous communities that are maintaining and rebuilding connections to their home-places in order to continue and develop their distinctive ways of being in the world. It also aims to connect these groups with each other, and with organizations working for communities who are no longer indigenous to place but who desire more meaningful relationships in and with the lands on which they live now. Among the Alliance’s founding ideas is the view that cultural practices and principles of Indigenous peoples hold insights that can not only contribute to those peoples’ own ongoing struggles against colonizing powers, but can also contribute to the paradigmatic shift in worldview required if humanity is to maintain and develop forms of resilience needed to meet the unprecedented social and ecological challenges of the 21st century and life in the Anthropocene.

Kristen Magis (2010) has described community resilience as the “existence, development and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability and surprise” (p. 401), a definition that builds on the early natural science focus on resilience as the ability of ecological systems to absorb changes in environmental conditions and persist (Hollings, 1973. p. 17. See also Walker et al, 2004). Some resilience scholarship has been critiqued for defining the term in ways that contain the presumption of resilience as a ‘good’. (See discussion in Olsson, Galaz, & Boonstra, 2014) This would certainly seem the case in Magis’ definition of community resilience with its telos to ‘thrive’. From a positivist or objectivist scientific position this normativity would be questionable. However, the apparent normativity in some definitions of resilience, including community resilience definitions, leaves open the possibility that resilience can be understood as an essentialist concept, bearing resemblance to the normative qualities of social and ecological relations described in some indigenous worldviews. Fikret Berkes and Helen Ross (2013; 2016), who have adopted Magis’ definition in their work on developing an integrated approach to community resilience within social ecological systems, specifically include Indigenous groups among those that exemplify community resilience. They argued (2013) that ‘Community resilience concepts apply best to place-based communities’ and to Indigenous communities, and that understanding ‘the values and behavior that bond communities and cultures with their environments’ is critical for understanding their resilience (p. 17).

A growing body of literature (Cajete, 2000; Deloria & Wildcat, 2001; Mitchell et al., 2008; Williams, Roberts & McIntosh, 2012) is presenting the argument that there is a central dynamic relationship of values and behaviour that exist between Indigenous peoples and the lands and waters that permeate their sense of place and of being. Speaking from the context of the Raramuri who live in what is today called northern Mexico, Enrique Salmón (2015) argues that place and the living and non-living things that constitute a place are not separate from the people of that place, but that as humans “we view ourselves as “integral” parts of our natural surroundings” (p. 3). Humans, he argues, are “part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins” (Salmón, 2000, p. 1332). He calls this a ‘kincentric ecology’. Knowledge derives from this extended sense of family rooted in place, and from this sense of family people learn and practice how to live. In this sense social-ecological resilience can be considered as an expression of what Battiste and Henderson (2000) call “the vibrant relationships between the people, their ecosystems, and the other living beings and spirits that share their lands” (p. 42) whose purpose is to ensure that to the best extent possible all our relations have what they need to thrive.

Elder Belinda Claxton shares Tsawout traditional knowledge of place on TIXEN spit during the Elders’ Voices Summit (photo – Iain MacKinnon)

Maori scholar Makere Stewart-Harawira (2005) argues that the values and behavior involved in such relationships can be considered as the expressions of ‘indigenous ontologies’ that have “an important place in theories of social transformation”. In particular, she argues that the critical insights of ways in which Indigenous peoples “define their relationships to all other life forms and to the cosmos”, can contest the “ethno-centrism of conservative and liberalist approaches to globalization” that are deeply implicated in the emergence of the geological Anthropocene. While acknowledging the essentialist nature of such a project, Stewart-Harawira has proposed that it may be possible to realize “an indigenous ontology of being” (p. 19, 35). The contents of such an ontology would have the potential to inform a larger project of decolonization and reconciliation referred to as work “to re-indigenize ourselves to our common home, Mother Earth” by the co-founder of the Bioneers network, Kenny Ausubel, in his preface to ‘Original Instructions’—a collection of teachings and suggested solutions to today’s global crisis from Indigenous leaders and other visionaries (Ausubel, 2008, p. xxii). This is work to enable for all people a deep and reciprocal connection to the Earth and its inhabitants made up of places we can all call home. Indeed, Williams (2012) has argued that “every person on this planet has the innate capacity to be Indigenous” (p. 93). What is suggested here is that, by speaking up against ongoing experiences which do not conform to their relational norms, and by articulating the deep cultural values by which they maintain life, Indigenous peoples can offer vital inter-cultural contributions to necessary changes in the ways in which a much wider portion of humanity think about our relationships with the world and act upon it.

Critically, however, Indigenous scholars acknowledge that alongside community resilience and the maintenance of indigenous ontologies there also exists in Indigenous communities widespread alienation and the loss of ways of knowing and being. The Okanagan scholar and activist Jeannette Armstrong addressed this alienation and loss when, drawing on the work of a colleague, she proposed to the Elders’ Voices Summit (2015) that at present many of us are “out of our indigenous minds”. Such alienation – affecting our experiences of inner and outer worlds – is an intrinsic part of the colonial experience. It has been called ‘colonization of the mind’ by the Gĩkũyũ scholar and novelist Ngũgĩ W Wa Thiong’o (Wa Thiong’o, 1986. See also Tuhiwai Smith, 1999).

The existence of colonial alienation among Indigenous peoples means that although we do not disagree with Berkes and Ross’ claim that ‘community resilience concepts apply best to place-based communities’ and to Indigenous communities, we believe their claim necessitates a space within resilience theorizing for a more critical analysis of how communities lose their place-base, their sense of being indigenous to that place, and their ability – by way of that sense of being indigenous to place – to foster individual and collective resilience. Analysis of the strengths of resilient communities needs to be complemented with historical and political work assessing why resilience seems to ‘apply best to place-based communities’, and with enquiry into why some communities appear to be able to maintain and develop ‘adaptive capacities’ to shock and stress that other communities appear to lack. These are questions AIR seeks to address and the methodology of the Summit was designed with such questions in mind.

While seeking to open a way for an Earth-centred ontological project of indigenization, AIR recognizes that in its common contemporary usage, the term ‘indigenous’ has a specific history as part of a political project focused on a limited number of peoples. In international law the term ‘indigenous’ was used in the second half of the 20th century to articulate the rights of populations not formally decolonized during the process of dismantling the European powers’ overseas empires following World War Two and still affected by the legacy of imperialism. In the same period the word also began to be used as a form of resistance identity by some of those peoples (Rodríguez-Piñero, 2005; Stewart-Harawira, 2005, p. 114-144). In this sense indigenous politics is important ‘unfinished business’ (Wilmer, 1993, p. 5).

Because of the diversity of cultures and perspectives held by 370 million Indigenous Peoples throughout the world today, no one single definition has been arrived at by any United Nations body and even the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples avoids any single definition. Rather a more loosely bounded set of characteristics has been proposed which include: self-identification; historical continuity with territory and/or pre-colonial societies; strong links to territory and surrounding natural resources; and, the resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities (UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, n.d.). The current use of ‘indigenous’ as a term describing the political struggles of a particular diverse group of peoples against the ongoing effects of colonialism also draws attention to the fact that an Earth-centred project of indigenization and re-indigenization does and will take place little-by-little, by way of culturally specific experiences in specific places. AIR’s approach reflects the localized nature of change, and the emphasis of Indigenous activists on the importance of Eldership, leadership and service (Kenny & Fraser, 2012). There is also an emphasis on participation, inter-cultural and inter-generational experiential and place-based learning, and arts-based methods which can help to bring place to life.

Elders’ Voices Summit

The elements of this approach were employed during the Elders’ Voices Summit which consisted of four days of Indigenous-led sustainability education and was attended by more than 100 people from Turtle Island [Canada and the United States], Aotearoa [New Zealand], Australia and Alba [Scotland], representing community, university, government, philanthropy and not-for-profit sectors. The age of attendees ranged from 17 to 80, reflecting the event’s focus on intergenerational resilience, and contained three broad, but overlapping, constituencies: Indigenous peoples colonized within their own homelands; settlers on Indigenous territories, usually of European origin, whose ancestors may have been colonized in their own territories prior to migration and who were then, after migration, complicit to varying degrees in the colonization of others; and more recent migrant peoples, often racialized and disenfranchised from homelands to which they are indigenous (Williams & Turner, 2015; Williams & Claxton, 2017). In consequence, the Summit brought together a range of assumptions, worldviews, ideas about agency and practical abilities into a space concerned with cultural and ecological action. Within the wider context of the AIR’s agenda, the Summit’s objectives were fourfold:

1.  Relationship building among AIR members;

2.  Identification of common and different perspectives relating to human and environmental well-being, and deepening participants’ understanding of the roots of these often diverse perspectives and agency imperatives;

3.  Developing methodological and ethical frameworks to serve as the future basis for engaged research and innovation for socio-ecological resilience; and,

4.  Refinement of key themes to ensure collaborator relevance and knowledge-mobilization of emergent insights and findings in relation to Summit themes (Williams & Turner, 2015)

As a means of realizing these objectives, inter-generational resilience was identified as a central theme for the Summit. It was interpreted by the organizers as “ensuring to the best extent possible that the next generations of human and other than human relations have what they need to flourish” (Williams & Claxton, 2016). Furthermore, the organizers framed the relationship between human and other than human nature on the basis of ‘kincentricity’, implying an understanding of intergenerational knowledge transmission as existing not only within but also between species; in this way the theme was able to draw together different strands of the Alliance’s cultural, ecological and disciplinary interests, which are often compartmentalized and considered unrelated.

Kincentricity was interwoven throughout the Summit’s four days as we progressed our way through the themes (roughly sequentially, but by no means linearly) of: 1) Preparing the Ground, 2) Indigenous Knowledge and Resilience, 3) Holistic Approaches to Learning, and 4) Innovations of Indigenous and Inter-people’s Resilience. (For a visual representation of the Summit program see figure 1.) While some days tended to emphasise more cultural re-mapping in narrative (E.g., indigenous knowledge and resilience) or epistemological terms (e.g. holistic, land-based learning) both elements were present on each day. All activities took place on either Tsawout or Saanich territory.

FIGURE 1: the outline program for the Elders’ Voices Summit

The Summit’s central strand of deepening delegates’ awareness of indigenous connections to place began on the pre-Summit day with a ‘colonial reality’ tour around the city of Victoria by Cheryl Bryce, a Lekwungen tradition-carrier. She works to reinstate and maintain native flora as part of a wider cross-generational, cross-community project to restore colonially disrupted pre-contact eco-systems around the city. Through her guidance, aspects of native history, food systems and cosmology emerged from within Victoria’s domesticated Beacon Hill city park and urbanized waterfront and river systems. She described how trophy-hunters had desecrated Lekwungen sacred sites, and the tour experience also indicated a wider cross-community societal desecration in Victoria today. At one quiet spot under a city bridge that spans a river important in the cosmology of Cheryl’s people’s there is an excavated shellfish midden, thousands of years old. It testified to a deep human presence in the place. As we were learning of the place’s cultural significance, just a few yards away a homeless man was sleeping next to a bin. While Indigenous people make up a vastly disproportionate percentage of Victoria’s homeless, it is a crisis that crosses cultural divides (Condon, 2016).

The vast external social-ecological changes within the Lekwungen territory that Cheryl Bryce described pointed to equally great shifts in native autonomy, connection to place and self-understanding – shifts that the philosopher Jonathon Lear has described as colonialism’s ability to generate ‘ontological vulnerability’ in colonized peoples (Lear, 2009). The consequences of this deep vulnerability were outlined by several Indigenous delegates during panel sessions, most notably by Haida Gwai elder, Barb Wilson (Kii’iljuus), who described the magnitude of population loss among her own west coast people – going from 12,000 to 500 in just a few years as a result of settler introduced diseases – and the catastrophic effects on those who survived (see Elders-Youth Panel, http://intergenresil.com/2015-summit/videos.html).

The centre-piece of the Summit was another moment of place-based learning: a morning ceremonial pit-fire on TIXEN, a spit of land on the east coast of the Saanich Peninsula in the south of Vancouver Island and an important locale in the Tsawout people’s traditional territory. For many generations TIXEN spit has been used for gathering traditional foods, collecting medicinal plants, preparing special meals, celebrations and spiritual reflection. Some of these traditions had been discarded but are now being recovered and, as part of the process of recovery, a small group of younger delegates to the Summit (including co-author MacKinnon from whose account of the pit-fire the following paragraphs are drawn) were given the privilege of participating in a ceremonial occasion which would help to maintain and transmit the pit-fire tradition.

The fire warming the stones whose heat cooked the food in the pit-fire (photo – Robin Haig)

Our small group of delegates from Canada, Aotearoa and Alba/Scotland arrived to TIXEN before the sun and, as light filled the day, things proceeded in a relaxed but effective way. We organised and divided ourselves for the tasks that came along. We dug a hole in the sand at the very top of the shore, roughly 4’x3’x2’. Then we covered the base of it with stones made of volcanic rock and filled the pit with pine and cedar wood to make a fire that would heat the stones. While the fire heated the stones, some of us travelled to the Tsawout’s sacred mountain to collect salal, a plant which we would use in the cooking. We travelled through their territory while the local men accompanying us shared local news and politics – each new view also brought a new question or a story. When we came to the mountain they found an area where salal was growing and we cut two large bunches of the leafy shrub. When we returned to the spit we found that others in our group had been gathering too – thimbleberry leaves and sword fern fronds, which would be used in the cooking.

Our group of a dozen or so were on the early shift to heat the stones ready for the food to be put into the pit, and around 0900 the rest of the Summit attendees joined us. For the next six hours or so the whole process of the Summit would unfold on the sands of TIXEN spit. A young native medicine man, JB Williams, guided the novices through our work. First we took out what was left of the burning logs from the pit. Then, on top of the hot stones, we began to add layers of the vegetation we had gathered. This would protect the food – potatoes, carrots and parsnips in muslin bags, and a salmon on a platter made of reeds. The food was layered into the pit with the vegetation we had gathered. JB explained that the vegetation would also add..

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Dyer JSE Fall 2017 General PDF

In 2014 I began “Hope and a Hike” a weekly Meetup intended to combine exercise, health gains and social opportunity with knowledge, positive local conservation success stories and experience in forested areas, as a community action project for my Master’s program. The experience was so positive I have continued it for the past three years. This article shares a combination of observations gathered since the beginning of Hike and a Hope. Some feedback from participants was collected as part of my work as a student; some was collected independently of my studies. The goal is to awaken a connection to the natural environment with hope and a desire to care and take action for the environment in some of these women (Fig.1).

Figure 1: Schematic diagram of Hope and a Hike Benefits

On a breezy Sunday afternoon, a dozen women emerge from their vehicles – the first timers hesitantly approaching to join the group of women in the parking lot. These women each clicked “yes” to an invite for this week’s one-hour event through Meetup.com. Names are exchanged yet again as a few more walkers arrive and each person hands me a dollar to contribute to the cost of having a Meetup site online. We hear some crows call from atop the spruce trees–sentinels at the edge of the forest. We are not all Southeast Michigan natives, but some of us yearn for reconnection with the land, with our bodies through movement, and with a world that feels whole and moving forward. I inhale, hoping that I’m offering that kind of gift with this Meetup group.

When everyone arrives, we dive into the hope topic for today’s hike. Most of the women are new to the group or have never been to this forest on the edge of Ann Arbor, Michigan so I pull out maps of the watershed and the green belt properties around the city. I locate this nature area and talk about how farm properties and small forests are being preserved, parcels becoming a patchwork corridor. One reason I chose this topic is that research shows that people who participate in activities such as hiking and nature study are more likely to place their land in a conservation easement than those who participate in activities such as hunting and fishing (Ramesh, Gary, Neelam & Ken, 2014). The hope topics that the women’s group learn about range from the osprey and eagle rebounds in Michigan, to the end of the sale of nicotinoids in local stores, to citizen science monitoring and vernal pool mapping. Defining hope and sharing hopeful quotes was yet another of the many topics on the more than 90 hikes I have led with this group over the past three years (Appendix A). This sharing illustrates a variety of innovative ways individuals and groups are doing something positive for the well-being of ecosystems members now and in the future.

The Gift of Hope

The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. — Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Sharing stories of hope offsets the doom and gloom in the news (Kelsey & Armstrong, 2012). It is a step toward cultivating constructive hope. Research shows that constructive hope is positively related to pro-environmental behaviors (Ojala, 2012). Ojala found that constructive hope comes from a change of perspective: reframing issues more positively in difficult situations to avoid being overwhelmed, trusting in outside resources (such as technology), and seeing oneself as a positive agent of change. This goes far beyond the idea of hope as just optimistically wishing for change. Ojala also found that when individuals believe that ordinary citizens working together can have an impact, they engage in more private behavior change. I am building on Solnit’s (2016) call to action to share examples of positive change and to remind people of what we have accomplished (pp. xx-xxi) as well as Macy and Johnstone’s (2012) “active hope”. I do this by introducing the realities in forested places, the good and the bad, and then sharing ways that individuals and groups are taking action locally, while inviting them to participate in some of the actions. Furthermore, I am working toward Freire’s (1994) idea that to overcome despair we need education in hope; how taking action feeds hope and hope feeds taking action (p.9). Educators in university have developed in-depth programs to foster active hope (See JSE issue on hope, Evans, 2015), but small steps can be taken in setting such as Meetups. I am aware that it is less likely that the women attending today were more motivated by hope than by the call of exercise, a social opportunity, or a chance to explore a new outdoor place, however hope can be awakened. It is likely that the women who attend “Hike and a Hope” have been more motivated by the call of exercise, a social opportunity, or a chance to explore a new outdoor place, than by hope, however hope can be awakened.

The Gifts of Women’s Perspectives

Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree. — Wangari Maathai

I started the group with a focus on women because women show more concern for environmental problems, and see them as more serious than men do (McCright, 2010). Women have more developed empathy that leads to more environmental concern and action (Arnoky & Stroink, 2010). Women also tend to have stronger environmental attitudes (Gardos & Dodd, 1995; Zelezny, Poh-Pheng & Aldrich, 2000) and more pro-environmental behaviors probably because they are socialized to be more concerned about others and more socially responsible (Hallum-Montes, 2012; Zelezny et al., 2000). Women are also less likely to accept current systems/ways of doing things as acceptable when serious environmental challenges arise (Goldsmith, Feygina & Jost, 2013). Therefore, as a group, women often have different emotional and social attributes than men concerning
environmental behaviors.

I also specifically chose women because they may hold a unique position to continue to take on environmental action in challenging times. Researchers who looked at climate change action found that place attachment, receiving a message about the impacts of climate change locally, and gender (female) were significant (Scannell & Gifford, 2013). Women are especially important in certain environmental efforts because they make changes in their environmental behavior at the personal level more than men do (Hunter, Hatch & Johnson, 2004; Semenza, 2011; Xiao & McCright, 2014). In addition, women see problems and conditions in the environment as less attributable to a higher power, government or chance, and view personal actions as necessary for change more often than men (Kalamas, Cleveland, & Laroche 2014).

“Hope and a Hike” attracts women from a variety of backgrounds and fields from marketing and education to medicine and travel. Some hail from Spain, China and India, and they chat with others from the East Coast or the South, yet all now find their feet walking the ground between the Great Lakes. I realize that as we recognize more gender possibilities (LGBTQIA+), a women’s group is problematic, but the studies mentioned do show reasons for creating a space specifically for women. To address this, I have contacted a local community education center to develop inclusive language for the group website so that anyone who identifies as a woman feels welcome to participate.

The Gifts of Walking in Forests

Going to the woods is going home.
— John Muir

Only some participants realize that walking in a forest area, in particular, has so many physical, cognitive, affective and restorative benefits (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008; Carpenter, 2013; Hayes & Berman; 2015; Kuo, 2015; Li, 2010; Marselle, Irvine, & Warber, 2013; Roberson & Badic, 2009). Like some other women, they may find outdoor exercise more satisfying than indoor exercise (Plante et al., 2007). They may use walking as their main source of physical activity (Bryan & Katzmarzyk, 2009). Yet they may not walk in forested areas (Zanon, Doucouliagos, Hall, & Lockstone-Binney, 2013). Our hikes usually pass a stream, pond or the Huron River. Including a body of water in a nature experience gives extra health benefits in the form of improved self-esteem and mood (Barton & Pretty, 2010). On today’s hike, Third Sister Lake will appear in the middle of the forest to unsuspecting eyes.

In addition to the general physical and mental health benefits, walking groups, such as this one, may be important for addressing women’s safety concerns in parks (Foster, Hillsdon & Thorogood, 2004) and for getting more women active in parks (Cohen et al. 2016). Many of the women in the group say they have never been to most of the fifteen parks we have hiked even though some live within walking distance of one. They also express gratitude for having short organized hikes because they were afraid of getting lost, or for their safety, if they were to try it on their own.

Having experiences in nature can be an important component for developing motivation for conservation action. Palmberg and Kuru (2000) found that experience in nature increased willingness to participate in further outdoor activities and that it helped people develop empathy for nature. People who have experience with nature, e.g. activities in nature, with environmental activism, or even a natural catastrophe, are more likely to take action on environmental issues (Finger, 1994; Schultz, 2000). Our experiences in forests through “Hope and a Hike” might lead to more sustainable behavior.

The Gift of Awe

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He [sic] to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead: his [sic] eyes are closed. — Albert Einstein

Now as we enter Saginaw Forest, the contrast between avoiding traffic at the park’s edge, and standing under the towering dark green of hundreds of century-old spruce trees brings some immediate exclamations of awe. “I had no idea this was here!” cried a first-timer. The feeling still hits me even after dozens of visits here. Providing opportunities for awe is important for promoting pro-environmental actions (Frantz & Mayer, 2014). Adults crave a sensory connection with the natural world (Wilson, 1984). Seeing the beauty in nature increases pro-social actions such as empathy and generosity (Zhang, Piff, Iyer, Kolvena & Keltner, 2013).

Experiencing awe can increase generosity, ethical decision- making and less focus on the individual self (Piff, Dietze, Feinberg, Stancato & Keltner, 2015). Feeling more connectedness to nature (including a sense of being part of something bigger, and an emotional closeness) predicts pro-environmental actions (Frantz & Mayer, 2014).

Credit: Phyllis Perry

Gazing up among the trees, I have the hikers estimate the trees’ age and then let them ponder the answer during the five-minute walk down the trail to a worn sign that says “White Pine, 1906”. Our wide-eyed appreciation for the trees switches over to amazing people of the past as I reveal the story of the words. University of Michigan students of the early 1900’s carried tools on the street car and then walked a mile each direction for years to plant forty species on these eighty acres. The students and teachers had a dream of reviving the old worn out agricultural land of Southeast Michigan. We receive the gift of their vision and their labor. It’s not an old growth forest we are experiencing, but it still has restorative inspirational power.

The Gift of Knowledge

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.
— Rachel Carson

As we round a bend, a highly eroded stream trickles by in a gully — an opportunity for a knowledge stop. Usually, here someone asks why it is so eroded. I stop the women for a brief look. They see firsthand the result of land left treeless by farming long ago and of runoff from land just upstream now built and paved for a small industrial park nearby. I point out the exposed roots and invasive plants, and sometimes mention my rain garden that captures storm water at my home. “I never noticed that before!” is a common comment. Then it’s back to walking. My goal is to make three to four quick stops. It would be easy to stop more frequently, but I know they want to walk foremost. (For a sample list of quick eco topics we have explored on past hikes, see Appendix B.) I pick a prominent easy-to-identify tree such as shagbark, white pine or black cherry to start developing “forest eyes.” Like learning a new language, when the words of a native speaker seem like just a blur of sound, we need a few basics to work with — in this case, to hone-in on points within the sea of bark and leaves. Here they have a beginning focused, sensory experience (Hauk et al., 2015), another kind of knowledge.

Moving downhill we suddenly come upon a quaint, historic, stone care-taker house and a small lake. For first-timers especially if they grew up in the area, surprise and awe typically emerge again. The urge to go to the edge of the water doesn’t die after childhood; it just slows its pace. So we go to have a quick look through a small lawn area and a fire pit where university students have worked and celebrated for over a hundred years. Sharing about people past and present, we connect with others who have cared for this place.

I save the sobering underground story of this place for the next stop. Just before the boardwalk I point out a small blue flag on a metal ground cap which is a monitoring site, one of many in the preserve, to check dioxane levels in the aquifer deep below us. The chemical contamination plume from production of industrial filters from the 1960s-80s now extends under our city and threatens the Huron River and possibly even our water supply. The stone house’s well and the lake are contaminated too. Some hear about this issue for the first time. Others knew, but feel the visceral sensation of being so near the factory and an affected natural area. It’s not a hope experience, but a spur to care following the awe. “I’m going to find out more about this and what we can do about it,” says one woman. The next time this environmental issue is in the news they may listen more closely and talk to someone about what to do.

As we follow the trail back toward the trailhead, I show the route we took on one of the highlighted maps I have uploaded to the Meetup so that they are more likely to return on their own. Some women have returned to hike sites, and told us about experiences at parks with their friends, children or grandchildren.

The Gift of Relational Activism

Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
— Mother Teresa

During the hikes, I also practice ‘relational activism’. Relational activism contributes to changes in communities and personal practices by using intentional modeling of daily environmental behaviors while building on relationships in the private sphere, or by taking actions that support others in conventional activism (O’Shaughnessy & Kennedy, 2010). On the hikes this is happening in many ways: when I talk about my experiences with family in the forest and volunteering at clean-ups or citizen science events, and when I make an effort to show my feelings for a place. Other examples of relational activism include offering a canning workshop and dinner, bike repair advice on the front porch, connecting experts with a friend in local government, providing childcare for others to work on political action, and showing friends, family and acquaintances their own sustainable home changes. Relational activism builds on the power of example and of relationship over time (O’Shaughnessy & Kennedy, 2010).

I’ve also done a few special relational hikes. One of them included a tour of my rain gardens, and another was a special walk to the city’s water source where we collected water and carried it so that we might physically connect with women who carry water daily to meet their essential needs. That special event ended with members at stations exploring water issues in the Great Lakes. Reactions included, “I hadn’t thought about where my water comes from, where it gets cleaned or where it goes.” and “The experience of carrying water for miles made me think about how I take my tap for granted.” They took home ways to get involved, at home or as a volunteer with organizations that I have participated in. At these social events women hear about and observe how someone like them is taking actions.

Gifts in the Future

A man’s [sic] value to the community primarily depends on how far his [sic] feelings, thoughts and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his [sic] fellows. –Albert Einstein

In the future, I plan to expand activities further by having a hope speaker at a hike. She was part of a group of citizens that organized to save a local forest from development and make it a park. This year I will also invite members to a stewardship day at one of the parks. As the group continues, I want to reach out to more women who are members of minority ethnic groups in the area. I will also try ending hikes with a suggestion to think about gratitude for something that inspired them on the day’s hike, and I hope to add an evaluation form to the Meetup site in addition to the existing option to write a review. Ideally, group members themselves may be able to expand some hikes by leading hikes, creating maps, or sharing hope topics.

I hope the women who participate in “Hope and a Hike” can become like the forests’ salamanders whose gift it is to cycle nutrients from the pond ecosystem to the forest ecosystem. These women, fed by their connection with the local forests, may carry knowledge and enthusiasm to motivate others to come and connect. We know that people who experience awe tend to act to share it with others (Piff et al., 2015). They may find their way to be a part of caring and giving back. If we wish to shift from a detached view of nature to a more holistic view, and we want more participation in sustainability actions, we need adults, as well as children and university students, to connect and feel hope. As we leave the forest someone says, “I would never have come on my own, and if I had I wouldn’t have seen the history and the effort people put into saving this place.”

Considerations for Starting Your Own Group

I tested out weekday vs. weekend hikes and found Sunday afternoon to work best for the largest number of people. However, the need to assess conditions for safety such as mud or ice make it difficult to schedule a location more than a few days ahead. Keeping the walk to one hour and the drive time for participants in town to about 20-25 minutes (some do come from farther away) is a reasonable time commitment. I also created rough home-made videos for two of the parks to give them more environmental information to access on their own (Dyer, 2016, link).

Credit: Phyllis Perry


Arnocky, S., & Stroink, M. (2011). Gender differences in environmentalism: The mediating role of emotional empathy. Current Research in Social Psychology, 16(5), 1.

Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.

Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207–1212. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x

Bryan, S. N., & Katzmarzyk, P. T. (2009). Patterns and trends in walking behaviour among Canadian adults. Canadian Journal of Public Health = Revue Canadienne De Santé Publique, 100(4), 294–298.

Carpenter, M. (2013). From “healthful exercise” to “nature on prescription”: The politics of urban green spaces and walking for health. Landscape and Urban Planning. Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edselc&AN=edselc.2-52.0-84875178063&site=eds-live

Cohen, D. A., Han, B., Nagel, C. J., Harnik, P., McKenzie, T. L., Evenson, K. R., & … Katta, S. (2016). The first national study of neighborhood parks: Implications for physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 51(4), 419-426. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2016.03.021

Dyer, C. (2016, April 25). Miller Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (HD). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fbLnTvuuVI

Evans, T. (Ed.) (2015). Hope and Agency as Ontological Imperatives for Sustainability Education: An Introduction to the Special Issue of the Journal of Sustainability Education Focused on Hope and Agency. Journal of Sustainability Education.

Finger, M. (1994). From knowledge to action? Exploring the relationships between environmental experiences, learning, and behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 50(3), 141–160.

Foster, C., Hillsdon, M., & Thorogood, M. (2004). Environmental perceptions and walking in English adults. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 58(11), 924–928.

Frantz, C., & Mayer, F. (2014). The importance of connection to nature in assessing environmental education programs. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 4185-89. doi:10.1016/j.stueduc.2013.10.001

Freire, P. (1994). “Without a minimum of hope” Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed (p. 9). New York: Continuum Books.

Gardos V., & Dodd D. (1995, December 2). An immediate response to environmentally disturbing news and the environmental attitudes of college students. Psychological Reports, 77(3):1121. Retrieved from http://www.amsciepub.com.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/doi/pdf/10.2466/pr0.1995.77.3f.1121

Goldsmith, R., Feygina, I., & Jost, J. (2013). The gender gap in environmental attitudes: A system justification perspective. In M. Alston & K. Whittenbury (Eds.), Research, action..

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Marzetta JSE Fall 2017 General PDF

Introduction and Literature Review

The purpose of this study is to develop a conceptual model that depicts learning design elements that promote Climate Change Literacy in higher education that will help support sustainability in all its aspects (environmental, social/cultural, and economic). The question that guides this pilot study is: What learning design elements are suited for the promotion of Climate Change Literacy in higher education and do these design elements inform the development of a conceptual model to improve the teaching of Climate Change Literacy?

This study proposes that Climate Change Literacy is part of Environmental Literacy, which includes the key components of climate change understanding, beliefs, and behavior to mitigate climate change. It is imperative for students to be Climate Change Literate to make important decisions that stem from or impact climate change and sustainability. Table 1 summarizes the indicators of each competency level for the three components of Climate Change Literacy (understanding, belief, and behavior) adapted from Roth (1992).

Table 1. Competency level indicators for the three components of Climate Change Literacy (modified from Roth, 1992, p. 27-34).


Students entering higher education institutions will be required to make complex decisions about climate change mitigation and will need to do so from an informed perspective. “Erroneous” understandings regarding climate change issues are a real concern due to the significant impacts of climate change on sustainability (Wachholz, Artz, & Chene, 2012). Thus, “higher education needs to expand its efforts to ensure all university graduates understand the scientific consensus about climate change and are actively engaged as part of the solution in their public and private roles” (Wachholz, Artz, & Chene, 2012, p. 138). Simply, university graduates need to be Climate Change Literate, no matter their vocational pursuits, to promote sustainability. Yet this is not occurring.

Wachholz, Arts, and Chene (2012) surveyed 375 students representing a cross-section of disciplines at a mid-sized university in New England, and their results were disconcerting. Most students held misinformation about the basic causes and consequences of climate change, especially surrounding the ozone hole. In fact, the majority of students surveyed were not aware Earth is already experiencing the consequences of climate change: One in three students responded there is disagreement among scientists about whether climate change is even occurring (Wachholz, Arts, & Chene, 2012). These findings most likely represent students’ exposure to manufactured controversies produced by media, interest groups, and politicians who are funded by the fossil fuel industry (Wachholz, Arts, & Chene, 2012). Most concerning was students’ lack of personal action to reduce gas emissions—only 15 percent were attempting to reduce their carbon footprint (Wachholz, Arts, & Chene, 2012). These results tie into Crona, Wutich, Brewis, and Gartin’s (2013) research, which correlates higher education with higher income and lower involvement in rural economies and/or direct extraction of natural resources. Those with higher education tend to have a lower sense of personal risk towards the effects of climate change due to their lack of direct experience with it. Another possible reason for students’ lack of action to mitigate climate change is their belief that it is not an ethical problem (Markowitz, 2012). This may stem from students’ conviction that current climate change is not human induced.

As indicated by these studies, climate change is a difficult subject to teach—especially if understanding and initiation of mitigation behavior are learning outcomes. Understanding climate change requires the comprehension of complex scientific concepts like the carbon cycle, atmospheric circulation, as well as regional and temporal variations in weather versus climate. It is also difficult to teach climate change because personal beliefs enter the scientific conversation (Li, Johnson, & Zaval, 2011; Markowitz, 2012; Spence, Poortinga, & Pidgeon, 2012; Wachholz, Arts, & Chene, 2012). Additionally, students may have psychological distance to climate change, which can be explained by Construal Level Theory (CLT) developed by Liberman and Trope (2008). CLT outlines four key dimensions of psychological distance: spatial or geographical distance; temporal distance; distance between the perceiver and others; as well as uncertainty that an event will occur. Psychologically distant events are abstract, high-level constructs composed of general decontextualized features (Spence, Poortinga, & Pidgeon, 2012). Students often perceive climate change as distant in all CLT dimensions.

Science educators must also understand the strong link between understanding and belief. It is possible to understand something, but not believe in it. This leads students to understand the science behind climate change, but not “believe” in climate change. Thus, students do not change their behaviors to mitigate climate change even though they may score well on a climate change concept test. This is seen in the research of Nam and Ito (2011) as well as Rule and Meyer (2009). In fact, students may develop their “belief” in climate change before their scientific understanding. This may make it difficult for students to comprehend or accept the science of climate change, as it does not support what students think they already know. Kahan (2015, p. 12) confirms: “To say there is “no relationship” between science comprehension and belief in climate change would definitely be incorrect. There is a very large one. But the nature of it depends on the [individuals’] identities”.

Students’ understanding and beliefs are also deeply connected to their behavior surrounding climate change. For a student to change their understandings, beliefs, and behavior to accommodate new scientific concepts (understandings), there must be dissatisfaction with existing conceptions, new conceptions must be intelligible as well as plausible, and a new conception must present the possibility of future research or exploration by the student (Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog, 1982, p. 214). (These actions are directly tied to students’ behavior in and out of the classroom.) Most importantly, a student’s “current concepts, his[/her] conceptual ecology, will influence the selection of a new central concept” and the behavior that accompanies it (Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog, 1982, p. 215). Conceptual ecology was defined by Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog (1982, p. 214) as “an individual’s current concepts”. In this study I extended the term conceptual ecology to represent students’ knowledge and experiences that lead to their current science understanding, beliefs, and behavior. Therefore, ecology represents not only students’ mental conceptions, but also the physical space where educative experiences take place.

Literature on students’ climate change understanding, beliefs, and behavior (i.e., Climate Change Literacy) has focused on primary and secondary education (Wachholz, Artz, & Chene, 2012). The research on post-secondary students tends to be over a decade old, narrowly focused on climate change facts, and does not examine the impact of different teaching methods on students’ climate change understanding, beliefs, or behavior. Therefore, there is a pressing need for science education research that examines students’ beliefs and behaviors along with their understanding due to the severity of climate change as a human induced environmental risk. Students must understand the scientific consensus around climate change and be actively engaged in an answer to promote sustainability. Consequently, science educators must understand what learning design elements are suited for the promotion of Climate Change Literacy.

Teaching Climate Change Literacy

The hypothesis of this study is based on the assertion that, when students are taught controversial and confusing science concepts (such as climate change) where accommodation (Piaget, 1968) is required, their conceptual ecology is not often utilized. As a result, students do not fully accommodate the information. Thus, students’ beliefs are frequently unchanged, so their behavior does not reflect the new science concepts they are taught and their Climate Change Literacy does not increase. This study design asserts that accommodation is more likely to occur when students generate their own questions created from their conceptual ecology and research the answers. Accommodation is more likely to occur in these circumstances because such research experiences create the cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1962) required for students to find dissatisfaction with their existing science conceptions as discussed by Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog (1982). Lastly, when students learn by generating their own questions and answers created from their conceptual ecology, they decrease the psychological distance between them and the concept as suggested by Construal Level Theory. Therefore, students are more likely to change their beliefs and behavior to align with their new conceptual accommodation. This would promote the development of students’ Climate Change Literacy, which is psychologically distant for many students.

Experiential and Place-based Education are both philosophies and methods that teach through action directly tied to students’ understanding and beliefs through experiences (their conceptual ecology). Consequently, they may inform the specific learning design elements that promote Climate Change Literacy. Experiential Education (ExEd) is defined as “education … that makes conscious application of the students’ experiences by integrating them into the curriculum where experience involves any combination of senses, emotions…, physical condition…, and cognition” (Carver, 2008, pp. 150-151). Place-based Education (PbEd) utilizes learners’ connections to places where place refers not only to a physical location, but the relationships and meanings that learners attach to places (Gruenewald, 2003; Sobel, 2004). Learners use these different place attachments, their sense of place, to comprehend concepts. PbEd validates different ways of knowing the world through inclusive curriculum and instruction. Due to ExEd and PbEd’s cultivation of students’ emotions and experiences to impact their beliefs, behavior, and understanding these teaching methods hold promise for evoking true transformation in students.


This mixed methods study is the pilot research to investigate what design elements promote Climate Change Literacy to inform the design of a conceptual model for a future course. The research took place in a sustainable urban agriculture field course at a public, urban Western university. As such, the students enrolled in the course were from urban and rural backgrounds (62% and 38%, respectively). The field course was conducted at an urban farm and included guest speakers with related hands-on activities. The course culminated with each student completing an independent research project to evaluate and improve current planning at the farm. A complex sequence of ExEd/PbEd activities was designed with the intended outcome of changing students’ understanding and dispositions.

This study examined the research question by measuring the growth (if any) of students’ Climate Change Literacy as well as examining why shifts do or do not occur in students’ climate change beliefs and/or behavior. This course was selected because it was a primarily undergraduate course (Table 2) that employed true ExEd/PbEd and involved the causes and consequences of climate change.

Table 2. Participants’ self-reported demographics and descriptive statistics.

Quantitative Data Instruments and Collection

A pre and post Climate Change Beliefs and Behavior Survey (CCBBS) was administered at the beginning and end of the course. The pre/post CCBBS determined any change in students’ perception of their climate change understanding as well as their beliefs and behavior surrounding climate change mitigation. The pre and post CCBBS both had 20 closed items and 10 open items. The surveys compiled for the CCBBS included the climate change understanding, beliefs, and behavior student survey by Wachholz, Artz, and Chene (2012) as well as climate change causes, ethics, and beliefs survey by Markowitz (2012). The CCBBS took approximately 15 minutes to complete.

To determine if ExEd/PbEd impacted students’ climate change understanding, a pre and post climate change concept test (CCCT) was administered. The CCCT was a combination of the 2011 carbon cycle concept inventory (Hartley et al., 2011), climate change cultural conceptual questions by Crona, Wutich, Brewis, and Gartin (2013), as well as the climate change causes, ethics, and beliefs survey by Markowitz (2012). Information from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Carnegie Mellon University (Hassol, 2002) were also utilized to develop questions. Questions were selected or created that would demonstrate students’ climate change understanding, especially focusing on common alternative conceptions based on misinformation. These resources have been found reliable and valid to demonstrate student climate change understanding by their respective authors.

Qualitative Data Instruments/Collection

Qualitative data included the open response CCBBS items and in-person participant interviews. This helped construct case studies to examine possible reasons why (or why not) students shifted their beliefs and/or behavior. The interviews lasted ~30 minutes and were conducted with two consenting participants. Interview topics included the participants’ course experiences, their climate change understanding, and their belief/behavior surrounding climate change mitigation.

Pilot Study Results

CCBBS and CCCT Closed Items

When the CCBBS was analyzed, the Wilcoxon signed-rank test indicated there was not a statistically significant difference between pre and post responses on the closed-response survey questions where p < 0.05. This quantitative analysis, therefore, did not support use of the design elements facilitated by ExEd and PbEd to promote students’ Climate Change Literacy. However, the qualitative analyses of the CCBBS’ open-ended responses told a very different story thus illustrating the importance of utilizing a mixed methods approach.

No statistically significant increase was found in participants’ overall score between pre and post CCCT where p < 0.05. However, after taking the course, participants were more aware of local flooding and its connection to climate change, reflected in the post survey responses and qualitative results. Yet, there was not enough of a score increase between pre and post-tests to be detected by the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. This may be due to the lack of statistical power resulting from the small sample size and a ceiling effect caused by participants’ high pre test scores.

CCBBS Open Items
Open response survey items were analyzed using coding in relation to the research question, as described in Table 3. First, priori codes based on the research question were used for the deductive comparison. The second round of constant comparison analysis was performed using inductive techniques where themes and patterns relating to the research purposes were allowed to emerge (Patton, 2002). Summary of key findings are listed below.

Q. 6: In the post survey, four participants acknowledged taking action to mitigate climate change is a difficult endeavor, but felt obligated to do so for future generations. This realization reflected an increase from functional to operational Climate Change Literacy.

Q. 8.2: Students’ understanding and beliefs surrounding the consequences of global climate change shifted from isolated ecosystem impacts (i.e., water shortage) to how systems work together (i.e., how water shortage leads to disease). This illustrates a functional to operational shift in Climate Change Literacy.

Q. 21.2: Participants demonstrated a shift from self-preservation to environmental preservation/sustainability.

Q. 23: All participants that responded to this question (n=6) agreed the course assisted them in deepening their climate change understanding.

Q. 24: For seven participants, their understandings and beliefs shifted to a higher level of Climate Change Literacy, but radical accommodation was not seen as participants were already expressing functional Climate Change Literacy. Yet, one participant did experience a radical accommodation shifting from believing climate change was a natural process to understanding it is an anthropomorphically induced issue. (This is discussed in the Case Studies section).

Q. 25/26: When participants created their own research question and investigated the answer, participants’ spatial, temporal, and social distance to climate change decreased. This assisted participants in reaching higher levels of Climate Change Literacy, which is in agreement with CLT (Liberman & Trope, 2008).

Q. 27/28: Participants still hungered for more information regarding efficiency in land, water, and energy conservation. They also requested more ways to reduce their carbon footprint through everyday activities and being more aware of resource consumption. Additionally, participants desired even more information on climate change. These findings coincide with those of Wachholz, Artz, and Chene (2012) who found students “yearned” for knowledge to become agents of ecological change.

Table 3. Coding of pre/post CCBBS open responses. (Not all students responded; some responses contained multiple codes; “NA” represents questions not posed in the pre survey because they were not applicable and/or relevant.)

Case Studies

The pre/post CCBBS and CCCT gave a snap shot into the participants’ understanding, beliefs, and behavior, but did not capture why. This was where the interviews were utilized to triangulate the findings. Participant Three was interviewed to further examine why he dramatically shifted his understanding/beliefs regarding human induced climate change and his moral obligation to respond to it. Participant One was interviewed to further examine why she did not shift her understand/beliefs regarding human induced climate change and her moral obligation to respond to it.

Case Study One

Participant Three grew up on a chicken farm and later enlisted in the armed forces where he served as a meteorologist. He acknowledged his ideas about climate change were shaped by his work in meteorology and the policies of the military:

…in a lot of [those] meteorologists’ minds climate change is make believe. We’re just going through a natural warming cycle on the Earth and eventually we will go through a cooling phase…

Yet, why did Participant Three’s ideas about climate change shift? The participant was adamant it was first-hand evidence that changed his mind regarding human’s role in climate change because he could see it:

There is actually something going on that’s not Earth related—it’s caused by humans… In class you see it first-hand. You get experiences and actually talk to professionals… whether it be conservation easements to being a state engineer or seeing how our water ways have changed in the past twenty years—especially since our population has increased… For me, at least, hands-on being outside [is important]. I’m a very visual learner. If I can see it, I can learn it. If I’m in a classroom with a white board I go to sleep mentally. You don’t get to have the same types of conversations—you don’t know the questions to ask ‘till you see it. It’s more “I tell you what you need to know and write it down” and then you’re going to be tested on it. Some people just don’t learn that way…To see the trash in the water, the fertilizer [runoff]… You can see how bad that water is.

For Participant Three, seeing was believing. Yet, did believing impact his behaviors? For this participant the answer was, “yes”—first starting small, then higher sustainability goals:

I don’t use aerosols any more, which is a good thing. I try to use as little electricity as possible. We leave our lights off when we’re not in the room. Try to only run the wash machine one time a week … I talk with my wife about what we want to do in five years to reduce our carbon footprint. … What do we want our grandkids’ world to be? We point out observations [to our children] — “see all the trash that’s here? We need to do our part to keep the environment as pristine as possible. Either recycle it or compost it” … [Eventually] we want to take mass transport … or … community vehicles … [which] reduces a lot of our carbon footprint.

The course also gave this participant tools that led to community activism for sustainability in both the environment and human community: “I talked to our parks people about doing a community garden, but they said no—just space for a playground, which I can understand…but both can be together… So [I] will keep talking and maybe they will hear me”. This demonstrates Participant Three’s increased Climate Change Literacy as he is “taking individual action through persuasion, political action, and eco-management to mitigate climate change.” Indeed, Participant Three’s dramatic shift in climate change understanding and behavior precipitated a shift in behavior to mitigating climate change and promoting sustainability.

Participant Three was then asked if PbEd was essential for learning about difficult and controversial subjects. He first responded negatively but went on to talk about the importance of a sense of place and application of knowledge:

The closer you are to where you learn, the more you care about it… But if you can uproot what you learned to anywhere you live, it [the learning] goes with you there to that place. You have to be able to apply it [the learning]. If you can’t apply it, then that would be a negative—for you and where you live.

According to Participant Three, the more connected to where you learn, the more you care about the learning. If you can apply your learning to where you live, the learning keeps living and growing, which is beneficial for the participant and community. This is connected to the participant’s sense of place, which is essential to PbEd.

Case Study Two

While Participant One did not share a great deal of personal background, she did give insights into her thinking and behavior surrounding climate change:

I’ve always loved the environment and knew we needed to protect it. That hasn’t changed. I’ve always known about climate change and knew it was real and caused by us. I’ve tried to help the environment too … Now..

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Sylvester JSE December 2017 General PDF


Universities have great potential to educate community youth. Universities are sites of knowledge generation and its dissemination is central to their mission. This potential has not always been sufficiently exploited in communities neighboring universities for a number of reasons including: cultural differences among community members and academics, a lack of incentives (e.g., policies around promotion and tenure), and a lack of resources for faculty and staff to spearhead these initiatives (Kezar & Rhoads 2001, Fryer year unknown). Despite these limitations, universities have knowledge-rich student body looking for opportunities to engage in outreach in some form (e.g., volunteering, service learning, and social action). Research illustrates that university students want to participate in volunteering or social action for multiple reasons including: improving their Curriculum Vitae, gaining practical experience, helping others, working for important causes, making professional contacts, making friends, and relieving stress, among other reasons (Universities UK and NUS 2015, Birgitta & Yamauchi 2010, Smith et al. 2010).

At the United Nations-mandated University for Peace, Master’s students are encouraged to translate university knowledge into social action. The majority of these students engage in this social action in their home countries after completing their degree requirements; however, these students are interested in volunteering and social action while completing their degree in Costa Rica. Specifically, students commonly express interest in gaining experience beyond their classrooms and specifically with youth in surrounding local communities.

Our project’s main goal was to meet Master’s students’ needs to gain experience beyond the classroom through university-community engagement. Our project is unique in that we did not approach our goals from a top-down perspective, i.e., inviting Master’s students to participate in an existing university outreach program; instead, we asked Master’s students to take on the role of researchers and educators in the design and execution of our community engagement work. Empowering Master’s students as leaders in the process is important for them to: 1) gain self-confidence as emerging professionals, 2) create a project that is relevant to their own learning needs, and 3) to engage in higher levels of learning (i.e., creating and educating; Anderson & Krathwohl 2001).

Because we carried out this project within the department of Environment and with students from the Sustainable Food Systems program, we chose to support community food security and sustainable agriculture. In Costa Rica and internationally, there is concern that some youth are uninterested in farming (White 2012) and that our current agri-food industry has resulted in the deskilling of young consumers (Jaffe & Gertler 2006). Our project was designed creatively by Master’s students to teach community youth about food security and sustainability in ways youth could connect to these teachings (e.g., music, drawing, hands-on practice).

Our project’s secondary goal was to strengthen university-community engagement for a few main reasons. Although the University for Peace has community engagement as a continuing ambition, this activity has not reached its full potential in the local communities surrounding the university due to a few key challenges. First, few university students speak Spanish, the native language of Costa Rica, which poses challenges reaching out to community schools. Second, there is a lack of funding and incentives for professors and/or students to create programs for community members. Third, a large portion of professors come from out of country and do not hold permanent positions; this creates a barrier to forming in-country networks and relationships central to community engagement.

Case study context

The United Nations-mandated University for Peace

The United Nations (UN) mandated University for Peace is a private university established in 1980; it was established under its own charter and thus, is not subject to UN regulations. The majority of the university’s students enroll in its Master’s programs in English and are on campus around nine months. We worked with students in the Department of Environment, Development, and Peace. This program is interdisciplinary and Master’s students specialize in Environmental Management topics including Sustainable Food Systems, Water Security, Climate Change, and Natural Resources Management. Students choose an internship or a thesis to complete their degree and the majority of students’ professional goals relate to social justice in academia, policy and/or practice.

University extracurricular research group

Outside of regular class time, Master’s students were invited to form an extracurricular research group by Olivia Sylvester, Assistant Professor in the Environment, Development, and Peace program at the university. Due to the short time students have on campus (nine months), we started research group meetings early on in the academic year to ensure students could build relationships amongst each other and with the professor. Furthermore, because participation in this research group was not for credit, we wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to plan our project considering it would compete with other student academic and non-academic activities. The majority of students in this research group specialized in Sustainable Food Systems and their professional goals included: working in academia, education, civil society organizations, and/or in policy.

The professor suggested that our research project be planned as transformative research, i.e., to propose a project whose outcomes would lead to positive social change. All students at our initial research group meeting agreed. Our project would be transformative for three main reasons. First, because its aim was to empower those whose voice is not often heard in research (graduate students). Second, because its end goal was to increase community knowledge about sustainable agriculture and food security. Third, because its aim was to strengthen university-community relationships for knowledge sharing.

The original idea for our research was working with community school children; this was proposed by the professor and students were invited to talk about it and/or propose an alternative. Presenting one idea was important to get our conversation started, because, as we discuss below, many students felt uncomfortable or unprepared to take the lead at the outset in a role generally allocated to a professor. Students decided to continue with the idea of working with community children; from this point on, the project was designed by Master’s students with minimal input from the professor. Students were however, encouraged to use the teachings they had recently received in their own Master’s program regarding sustainable agriculture, and to translate these teachings in some way for community youth.

Different ideas were proposed to work with community children (i.e., educating at local schools, creating vegetable gardens at local schools). Students finally decided on hosting a workshop for community children using the community garden on campus. The Master’s students decided to have our workshop on campus because: 1) they created this garden and thus felt connected to, and knowledgeable about, this site, 2) the project did not have funding for materials for a workshop off campus, and 3) students wanted to introduce community children to our university campus, because it is a campus that is not frequented by Costa Rican nationals (despite being well known internationally).

Master’s students were invited to become equal partners in the project (from planning to execution and publication write-up). The students self-selected their roles in the project based on their time and interests. In total, nine students decided to plan and participate in the work with community school children. Individually, they had different levels of agricultural knowledge but most of them were new learners of sustainable agriculture.

We considered our work both transformative research and social action because our goal was to empower Master’s students as researchers and educators while critically analyzing this process. At our institution, Master’s students are interested in learning more about research before they decide to do a Master thesis (versus an applied project); thus, we designed our work as research and Master’s students took reflective journals as sources of data documenting their experience in the process (e.g., Borg 2001). Students were encouraged to reflect on the project’s power dynamics, our group communication and decision making, as well as the successes and challenges in project design and execution. In addition to reflective journals, during our in-person meetings students reflected on our project power dynamics and how they were coping with the workload.

Finding a community school for our workshop

The research group chose to invite a private versus public school to overcome a language barrier. Many private schools in Costa Rica teach core classes in English and this was the language spoken among our Master’s students. Specifically, we worked with students of the fourth grade at Blue Valley Private School and our collaboration was directly with their teacher Mr. Dobrota. This collaboration was facilitated because one student researcher, Janaya Greenwood, knew this teacher personally. In total, 26 fourth graders attended the workshop along with their teacher and teaching assistant.

Planning and executing workshop activities

Master’s students decided on holding a workshop in the garden and designed four workstations for the school children. These stations included: 1) plant identification and knowledge sharing, 2) composting and beneficial pests, 3) creating organic fertilizer, and 4) planting with song. To better manage the large group of students and allow for more meaningful participation, the fourth graders were divided into smaller groups (6-7 students) and rotated through the four stations. The children were also given a worksheet to take notes or draw about what they saw and learned at each station.

To break the ice with the children and to make the topic of sustainable agriculture more engaging to them, our workshop leaders chose garden nicknames derived from names of food and nature; an activity which inspired laughter and relieved nervousness amongst the children. This was designed to not only act as a fun activity, but also to start a conversation regarding the diverse crops grown for food. It was interesting to learn that some crop nicknames were known to all children (e.g., pineapple), whereas other crops (e.g., arugula), were only known to a few.

It is well documented that learning by doing is an effective way to retain information (Kolb 2001), and thus, we incorporated multiple elements of hands-on practice in our workshop; these elements included: shoveling and mixing organic fertilizer, digging and planting seeds, massaging and tasting crops, and holding worms from the soil (Figure 1). We complemented this learning style with note-taking and drawing. Children were given a sheet of paper where they could write down or draw something they saw and/or learned at the different stations (Figure 1). The children seemed to take this activity very seriously. Many did not want to leave a station without completing their notes to ensure that they didn’t forget the important things they had just observed.

Figure 1: One fourth grader at the Composting and Beneficial Pests workstation examining the behavior of worms used for vermicomposting.

We also included music to enhance children’s interest in gardening and to connect with the children. According to Turner and Freedman (2004) the use of music in environmental education can help students learn because it can: 1) present teachings in musical lyrics and 2) help people value nature if nature is also understood as musical, and 3) can build help build empathy of the natural world. Music is also an important tool because it can transcend geographic locations, cultural, and socio economic differences (Smiley & Post 2014). In our case, many of the Master’s students were from different countries and cultural backgrounds than those of our invited children participants (the majority were Costa Rican born and raised). Because we did not know the school children before our workshop, we used music as a way to connect with them in general and to talk about agriculture. Specifically, at our planting station co-author Tiyamike Mkanthama played the bongos and performed a rendition of a popular American folk song called Garden Song written by David Mallett (Figure 2). Children were invited to sing, dance, clap, or snap fingers along with the music. Music was also used when students were invited to plant seeds; specifically, they were given the space to talk to, massage or sing to the seeds and plants to aid in their growth (Figure 3). Here some children chose to sing popular songs together and this allowed them to connect to agriculture in their own ways rather than only in the context of the song our workshop leaders chose.

Figure 2: Co-author Tiyamike Mkanthama playing the bongos as an invitation for children to connect with gardening through song.


Figure 3: Co-author Janaya Greenwood inviting children to sing to the seeds as they planted to aid in their growth.

Critical reflections on the workshop: recommendations and areas for improvement

Empowering Master’s-students as educators and researchers

In a workshop led by Master’s students, we recommend working in a setting where these students feel comfortable and to which they feel connected. Our garden was built by the same students that led the workshop; having this connection and sense of place was central to increasing Master’s students confidence as educators about sustainable agriculture. Co-author and Master’s student Janaya Greenwood explains:

“Knowing the garden’s ins-and-outs allowed us to confidently plan and execute a workshop located in an environment that we were the experts of. This familiar space, complete with all of the materials needed to lead a lesson, became our classroom and the visiting youth became our students. After the workshop I sat with the youth group during their lunch and one of the young girls was surprised when I told her that all of the workshop leaders were students and that this was our school garden. Her confidence in us as teachers affirmed that we could take on this new role when given the opportunity and the right tools.”

We further recommend that professors support Master’s students’ autonomy in the design of the workshop; this includes, being an observer in meetings rather than an instructor and allowing students to experiment and to test methods that might be unknown to the professor guide. Janaya Greenwood describes how this autonomy was important:

“Throughout my education, there has always been this invisible line which seems to separate the students from the teacher. As a student you are always trying to meet the expectations of your teachers in discussions, on assignments, or during tests. Your teachers are the experts and in traditional classes they set guidelines for your participation and learning. However, during the planning and execution of this workshop that line faded because us, the students, were in charge of creating our own guidelines in an environment where it was evident that our professor was also learning from us. Through group collaboration, and with support rather than specified direction from the professor, students decided on the most important elements to be shared with youth and how to accomplish this. This self-regulation and creation fostered a sense of responsibility, autonomy, and also excitement amongst us in the development of something that was entirely our own.”

Furthermore, supporting Master’s students autonomy to experiment was critical to developing creative ideas that may not be within the range of ideas or expertise of the professor. Olivia explains that including music and singing in the workshop would have been out of her comfort zone considering this is not a conventional teaching technique, nor was it one she had previously tested. Master’s student workshop leaders were eager to experiment and proposed many ideas that the professor had not thought of (e.g., garden names, music, drawing the garden from a bird’s eye view).

Overall, flattening power dynamics in academia can be challenging because it can be out of the comfort zone of professors who are used to leading, and of students who may not feel confident in their ideas for research or teaching. Students may also lack the confidence to share these ideas in front of professors that are seen as experts on a topic. Co-author and Master’s student Monika Bianco explains that “although extremely excited by the project, I found it slightly intimidating at the beginning of the semester to be encouraged by the professor to form part of its leadership.” The sense of intimidation and unpreparedness to apply knowledge outside of the university classroom has also been reported by students from other universities (e.g., an expectation gap; Millar 2014). Our findings combined with the reported expectation gap illustrates why we need more spaces where Master’s students can take on the roles of educators and researchers to ease their transitions into their professions. Masters student Janaya Greenwood elaborates on this:

During my undergraduate studies, and through much of my Master’s, what is taught in class is predominantly theoretical. My studies at the University for Peace, specifically within the Environment Department, have differed from previous educational settings since it has helped to develop both theoretical and practical skill-sets that can be utilized outside of a purely academic setting. Many students have to wait until securing an internship or employment to develop the skills that I was able to obtain through class projects and the extracurricular research group.

There were some limitations, however, in regard to efficiency and commitment which may be expected from this type of project organization, especially among students who are not accustomed to it. From the project’s initiation, the students agreed to participate as much as they could throughout the year and that the project would grow organically and experimentally based on the time and resources available, which were unknown at the time. The results of this agreement were that 1) only those with a high interest level participated, 2) leadership was slightly staggered and 3) the project development moved slowly. It would have been more efficient for the Master’s students to sign up for specific leadership roles (i.e. planning meetings, organizing tasks, communication) and to have someone to be accountable to. For example, too many tools for communication were used in order to accommodate everyone’s preferences (e.g., email, google documents, facebook, whatsapp) and this often resulted in confusion and lack of timely responses. Despite a level of inefficiency, Master’s students expressed that the overall advantages of the project’s organization outweighed its limitations. Specifically, Monika Bianco explains:

Students were given a unique opportunity to build their research skills in an encouraging environment in which they were the ones responsible for the resulting successes and benefits. Students learned to take risks and get out of their comfort zones, to have confidence in their own knowledge, and to manage their time and commitments throughout the year. Most students were unaccustomed to the balanced power dynamics encouraged by the professor. This project has shown, however, that if this style of research becomes more prevalent at the university level, it could lead to more empowered and confident graduates and young professionals.

We found it challenging to equitably share the workloads and benefits of the project. Specifically, this was a volunteer project, so people could commit to as much or as little of the project as fit with their schedules. Due to this voluntary nature, neither the workload nor full benefits were shared equally by all who participated. Of the nine people that partook in the execution of the workshop, only five people took on leadership positions (e.g., planning activities and working at each station) and the other four walked student groups around garden stations (i.e., assistant roles). That not all Master’s students took on leadership roles could have been due to their personal preferences, their English language abilities, and/or their experience and comfort teaching. To better share workloads and to give all students opportunities to take on leadership roles, we suggest organizing a follow-up workshop where those who might have wanted to try out new roles would have been given a chance to do so.

One important element to consider is how the role a Master’s student played in our project can affect the benefits they acquired from it. Specifically, only those who were station leaders volunteered to be a part of the write up of our workshop outcomes. Although it is impossible to directly link workshop role with willingness to write up an article due to other influencing factors (e.g., comfort with English, availability), it is important to consider our observation, i.e., that those Master’s students with more active roles, were those who followed the project to completion and receive additional professional benefits (i.e., co-authoring an academic paper).

Some of the students are already beginning to benefit from this workshop experience, not only from the skills acquired, but also from the confidence it has generated. Specifically, Monika Bianco explains,
After completing my Bachelor of Arts degree, I felt that I lacked practical tools to bring into the workforce and, as a result, decided to pursue a Master’s degree. Although I have learned a great deal this year, if not for this workshop, I’m afraid I would have graduated with a similar sentiment. This experience’s value has been demonstrated to me recently on two different occasions. Firstly, during my internship at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I was asked to apply the specific knowledge I acquired in the workshop to develop a national document on how to teach the Costa Rican curriculum through school gardens. Throughout most of my internship I felt like I was being taught by my colleagues, so the fact that I could contribute this information made me feel valued and respected in my workplace. Secondly, in a recent job interview for an NGO working in community development, I was asked what practical skills I could contribute to the team. The interviews were very interested in my garden workshop experience and I feel that it has increased my potential for..

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Hintz JSE Fall 2017 General PDF

Both The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook and The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables from Chelsea Green Publishing fill important gaps in the field of sustainable agriculture. Both of them represent the best of the agricultural publishing tradition in that their authors are both scholars and practitioners. Both of these texts also address important innovations in sustainable agriculture and are useful teaching resources as agricultural educators struggle to address viable models of resiliency in the face of climate change. It is not often in this journal that we are able to highlight advances in technical sustainability education; I am pleased to review both of these books in that light.

The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook reviews the wide gamut of techniques now available in the field of protected growing. Borrowing much from European methods, the author, Andrew Mefferd nevertheless situates his book strongly in America, citing details about his own markets and crop variety decisions. This text is fairly unique in that Mefferd appeals both to large growers and small farmers. Though the author is thorough in covering the basics, I, as a veteran winter producer, still learned important strategies and tricks to trial in my own operation. Chapters include information on structures; heating, cooling, lighting, and irrigation; profitability; plant behavior; plant management; grafting; and top-producing crops. In his writing, Mefferd’s experience shines through as both a grower and sometime consultant through his work at Johnny’s Selected Seeds: he has both his own unique knowledge and the benefits of trouble-shooting the challenges of many growers around the country. Though he could cover many crops, he has focused here on what are generally accepted as the most profitable, and he provides important systems-minded management considerations for each of them. Though the text could benefit from more diagrams and illustrations, the writing is very clear and concise. This book will appeal to agricultural educators everywhere as a solid text on protected growing that can both serve as an introduction to the field or as an accompaniment to field experience and advanced practice.

There are a handful of agricultural texts that I return to over and over again, and that I lend my interns, require my students to read, and have dog-eared, underlined, and highlighted. The Lean Farm is one of those books, and The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables is a detailed and practical sequel to the first, germinal book. Author Ben Hartman is another writer with extensive personal expertise that he focuses with laser precision in this latest book on the key moments of vegetable production that could use greater efficiency. Hartman goes into further description of his application of lean principles originally used in Japanese car manufacturing, a field that at first might seem antithetical to sustainable farming. His premise is that greater incremental efficiency on his small farm frees up considerable time for a better work/life balance over the course of the year. Hartman’s work stands as a rigorously tested manifesto that bigger is not necessarily better in agriculture. Chapters include planning, bed preparation, compost, seed-starting, transplanting, weeds and pest management, sales, and others. The book’s photos and tables make Hartman’s operation very accessible, and the format of the text makes it easy to find material again for reference. This will be a highly useful text for both agricultural educators and food systems educators looking for resources for urban farming; the techniques Hartman discusses are very well suited to the intensive production needed in urban areas. Hartman also fills an important gap in agricultural literature, focusing on small-scale production, a style I believe will continue to grow as local food demand continues to rise. Appendices on tools, seed varieties, and enterprise budgets on a per-bed scale will be highly useful for growers looking to fine-tune their operations, and educate their interns on the details that can make or break a farm.

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