Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Education Theory and Practice

Content Description

1 online resource (ix, 199 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Alandeon W Oliveira

Committee Members

Brett L Levy, Carol R Rodgers, Alan R Berkowitz


citizen science, experiential education, pro-environmental behaviors, self-determination theory, sense of place, urban youth, Environmental education, Place-based education, Education, Urban, Science

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Science and Mathematics Education


Citizen science programs are a way for participants to develop a sense of place, which has been theorized to lead to pro-environmental behaviors. In this mixed-methods study, I document how a citizen science program encourages urban youth to connect with their place, and notice how both joy and wonder are developed as they experience a stunning migratory event with a unique organism, the American eel. Students were excited to be in a creek and to ‘discover’ a new creature in a place that they had walked past for years, one that was merely a backdrop to their lives prior to participating. The creek, and the river to which it connects, is an ecological mystery, and yet it contains amazing stories that can captivate and inspire youth. Providing opportunities for youth to use science to explore nature in their place is a mechanism to develop equity, as it uses an asset mindset to highlight the value of their community. In places where disinvestment and segregation based on race and class has perpetuated the mistaken belief that there is nothing of ecological value, encouraging and providing space for the development of sense of place through citizen science can reconnect youth with nature and with each other. Over the course of the sampling season, youth developed empathy for both the eel and the eel’s home, and realized that the experience allowed them to consider the other types of life that might exist in the creek and the river. Besides feelings of empathy, students gained ecological knowledge about the eel and its habitat and developed confidence in the sampling activities as autonomy, relatedness, and competence were fostered by the program leaders. As a result, participants described their place in more positive ways at the end of the program, increased their sense of empathy with and knowledge about the American eel, and expressed a heightened pride in the ecosystem where it lives. There was an iterative process that connected place attachment, meaning, and the experiences students were having in the creek, and as students learned more, they asked more questions and also began to own the knowledge they had gained. However, students’ willingness to engage in pro-environmental behaviors was limited to certain individual behaviors, which suggests that citizen science programs may not be able to encourage behavior change without explicit attention to this as an outcome and opportunities for students to discuss both the complexity of challenges facing the eel possible solutions. There were also discrepancies between the qualitative and quantitative results in this study, which suggests that sense of place, and particularly the affective components of place attachment, are not readily measured with positivist survey approaches. Thus, this study also highlights the limitations of surveys to explore sense of place with urban youth, suggests incorporating qualitative tools for sense of place work, and suggests specific ways that sense of place may be operationalized in order to capture this important outcome in citizen science work.