Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Education, Teaching-Learning Processes

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

William C. Kyle


Theresa Coble

Charles Granger

James Wilson


The people around us - as well as the methodical progression of education through content - often shape our relationship to the world. Currently, Earth is at a crossroads, which requires humans to act and live more sustainably with an intentional environmental ethos, whether for literal survival or for slowing Earth’s resource degradation. Situated within the models of ecological contributors such as Aldo Leopold, transformational experiences, particularly when processed with self-reflection, writing, and social interaction, can change behaviors and priorities in individuals. Additionally, by recognizing the place of social learning components in expeditionary, informal, or adventure-based education settings, the potential for environmental education to meet the transformational goals needed to address a planet being quickly altered by humans can be met. High Mountain Institute, an adventure-based expeditionary semester high school in Leadville, Colorado, is the model I used for observation and basic interpretive qualitative analysis to determine how social interactions work together with experience to change or further develop environmental behaviors and ecological thinking. The participants were 15-17-year-old high school students attending a five-week immersion experience into expeditionary backpacking and place-inspired education topics. As a result of this experience, students created a sense of community and empowerment to plan for a healthier future, increase contact with nature, and inspire others upon return to their homes and traditional schools—indicating potential for behavioral change. These changes were influenced by the peer-driven modeling and relationships with college-age intern staff, teachers who also lived the behaviors, and intentional trust-based community building curriculum design. Observations of these changes over an intensive five weeks gave hope that intentional social and nature planning can authenticate transformational environmental education.

OCLC Number