First Advisor

Holt, Emily A.

First Committee Member

McGlaughlin, Mit

Second Committee Member

Shellito, Lucinda

Third Committee Member

Pugh, Kevin

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Document Type


Date Created



College of Natural and Health Sciences, Biological Sciences, Biological Sciences Student Work

Embargo Date



The central goal of my dissertation is to better understand undergraduate biology students’ perceptions of climate change specifically using a localized lens. Research relating to climate change perceptions and understanding is common in the K-12 setting; however, there have been far fewer studies that use undergraduate student populations. Undergraduate students represent a new age of the voting populus and are therefore an important demographic to target for inducing environmental change. To foster climate change awareness, concern, and willingness to act in our undergraduate students, we must first understand how they perceive it. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches I explored what factors influence students’ perceptions of climate change locally by sampling 410 undergraduate biology students. I generally concluded that the framing of climate change (e.g., local vs. global) influences our students’ awareness of its impacts in their local area. By interviewing 16 students, I found that the relationship or connection a student has with natural areas is a strong predictor of students’ awareness of climate change locally. Further, I found that students’ personal experiences in nature contributed to their connection to nature and increased environmental awareness. In my final study, which included 471 undergraduate biology students, I found that some students perceive climate change as distant spatially, socially, and temporally which lowers their environmental awareness of climate change locally and their perception of how it impacts themselves; however, this distance seems to be fluid and can be changed through purposeful classroom instruction. I suggest that instructors reframe their coverage of climate change in the classroom to be more place-based to increase the personal relevance of climate change and reduce its perceived distance.

Abstract Format



179 pages

Local Identifiers


Rights Statement

Copyright is held by the author.

Available for download on Wednesday, November 13, 2024