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An examination of the value of community in natural resources education




Archie, Tim, author
Newman, Peter, advisor
Vaske, Jerry, committee member
Bruyere, Brett, committee member
Most, David, committee member

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The Warner College of Natural Resources (WCNR) at Colorado State University has purposefully implemented a range of programs which emphasize social factors, such as sense of community, and are designed to increase the likelihood of student success. Typical measures of student success in WCNR (and higher education in general) have included student outcomes such as: retention, engagement, learning, and enhancing the overall student experience. However, little is known to what extent social factors such as sense of community have value in influencing student outcomes such as retention, learning, and students' overall experience. Therefore, the overall purpose of this dissertation was to examine the value of community in influencing student outcomes. This dissertation studied the role of community in influencing student outcomes in two types of academic programs (learning communities & fieldwork courses) and examined how students' level of social engagement within the WCNR community was related to their overall experience within the college. Chapter one outlines theories of student retention, experiential learning, and student engagement. Chapters two and three examined academic programs that have been shown to promote a sense of community: a residential first year learning community (chapter two) and fieldwork course (chapter three). In chapter four, the investigation of community was expanded beyond single programs and explored the extent to which students' social experience and participation in the WCNR community is related to their satisfaction with their overall experience within the college. Chapter five provides summaries of these studies and implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research. The first study examined sense of community in residential learning communities. Learning communities have been shown to effectively retain students and promote a sense of community, but it is unclear to what extent learning communities' effectiveness in retaining students can be attributed to sense of community. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to determine the value of the sense of community created by learning communities in influencing student persistence. The results of this study indicated that learning communities were effective in promoting a sense of community and students were generally not planning to leave the institution because their sense of community needs were not met. The second study examined the value of experiential learning in a fieldwork course at Pingree Park. Prior work has shown that fieldwork courses are effective in producing knowledge and skills that are transferable beyond the course, and a sense of community, but it is unclear to what extent the effectiveness of fieldwork courses in producing these outcomes can be attributed to a sense of community. The findings of this study indicated that sense of community had value in influencing knowledge and subsequently confidence in knowledge and skills gained in a residentially based field course. Additionally, sense of community had a significantly weaker effect on these outcomes, likely due to the less immersive social interactions with peers and the quality of sense of community they experienced compared to residential field course participants. The third and final study explored social engagement in the WCNR and the value of social engagement in influences student satisfaction. Social engagement was reflective of students' perceptions and level of participation of social components of the WCNR community. The findings of this study indicated that the more socially engaged a student is, the more satisfied they were with their WCNR experience. Additionally, active and collaborative learning, which is incorporated in many WCNR programs, was shown to positively influence social engagement. These findings suggest that the programs designed which incorporate active and collaborative learning have value in influencing students' perceptions and level of participation in the WCNR community and subsequently their overall satisfaction with WCNR.


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higher education
sense of community
experiential education


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