Date of Award

12-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Russel L. French

Committee Members

Neil Greenberg, Stephanie Robinson, Gary Skolits

Abstract

The purposes of this research were 1) to understand what stakeholders in one nature center are "thinking"about the focus of their center and the niche it occupies; 2) to characterize the role of one nature center in its local community; 3) to examine the nature center in terms of established characteristics of a "best" nature center; 4) to compare stakeholder perceptions with perceptions of directors of exemplar nature centers and environmental education organizations; and 5) to characterize visitor and member stakeholder perceptions and motivations in terms of the extrinsic value of ecosystem services, bioeconomics, versus the intrinsic value of nature, biophilia.

This research was conducted utilizing case study methodology with mixed method data collection. Ijams Nature Center visitors and members were surveyed concerning the value of nature; structured interviews were administered to Ijams Nature Center employees, nationally recognized nature center and environmental organization directors.

Visitors‘ perceptions of nature focused on the natural surroundings of the nature center, providing opportunities to watch wild animals, appreciate nature, and feel at peace. Nature center member perceptions of nature reflected the concepts of stewardship and advocacy fostered by the Center‘s conservation mission, education programs, and preservation activities. Participants shared common thematic concepts for the role of nature centers and the characteristics of a best nature center. A best nature center was characterized as a composite of factors, practices, and perspectives that merge to form a business plan reflective of best practice guidelines. Participants highlighted the unique quality of centers and the passion and vision that guides development and the roles played by nature centers in their local communities, as identified in this study, i.e., education, advocacy, and immediacy.

Ijams Nature Center visitors and members valued nature differently in terms of bioeconomics and biophilia, but both groups rated the biophilic value of nature of greater importance, with differing constructs reflective of that value.

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