Connecting Interest in and Awareness of the Environment with an Informal Experience

Wait, Miranda Louise
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Universities play an important part in creating a more environmental literate society and providing resources to help encourage more people to enter STEM careers, a rapidly growing field in a time where environmental issues are becoming more of a worldwide concern. The responsibility for solving these issues is being left to the younger generations (Wang & Zhang, 2021), and universities need to take a more active role in environmental decisions and practices by regarding their students as our future community leaders, decision makers, and opinion shapers as the future of our society (Gurbuz & Ozkan, 2019). For this study, I aimed to look at how an informal learning experience, as part of a mandatory class at a university, affected students’ interest in and awareness of science, STEM careers, and environmental issues. I used the theoretical framework of “science capital,” a conceptual theory on how to use the experiences that a person is provided in supporting and enhancing people’s attitude, engagement, and participation in science (Archer et al., 2022). I created a pre- and post- questionnaire by combining four instruments: STEM Semantics Survey, Environmental Awareness Questionnaire, Relevance of Science Education-D, and STEM Career Interest Questionnaire. The participants in this study were university freshman students enrolled in a mandatory class designed for freshman, which also included a glass-bottom boat ride as an informal learning experience, part of a nature and research center part of the university campus. I expected that the students who participated in the study would have an increase in their interest in and awareness of STEM, science, environmental awareness, and STEM careers. My assumption was that there would be an increase, whether it was minimal or significant, in either of the areas. Results from the study were mostly insignificant for the impacts of glass-bottom boat ride on the opinions of the students. The p-values found were statistically insignificant for all scales in each instrument except for the STEM Semantics Survey scale for math and the Environmental Awareness Questionnaire scale for “interest in nature”, inferring that the treatment of the boat ride did not have a statistically significant effect on the students’ STEM, environment, and science perceptions. However, the implications of the study with other research shows that with an increase of similar opportunities, there is a potential to make an impact in student’s interest in and awareness of STEM, the environment, and opportunities within STEM career fields.
informal science, STEM, environment, environmental awareness, science, Likert, informal, science capital, AKASA model, Biology
Wait, M. L. (2023). Connecting interest in and awareness of the environment with an informal experience (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.