Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Tarule, Jill


This phenomenological study investigates the stories of ten committed, regional environmental non-profit (ENP) professionals who were environmental studies program (ESP) undergraduates, exploring what sustains them in their work, with a focus on the role their undergraduate academic and extracurricular experiences play in supporting their commitment. Financial hardships, public valuation of environmental work, the need to perform multiple roles within the organization, complexities in ecological practice, the associated complexities in human interactions, and a slow timeline for change were the major challenges reported by the participants in their work with regional ENPs. Despite challenges, they persist in their work, often feeling called to the work and prompted by a desire for ethical accord between their personal values and professional lives. Participants describe their academic programs as helping them understand the nature and scale of the environmental challenges. Study abroad, field research, internships, and community-based class projects were all mentioned as academic experiences that allowed them to explore their identities as environmentalists and develop inter and intrapersonal skills. Involvement in student clubs and organizations also provided opportunities for identity development and inter and intrapersonal skill building. Outdoor experiences provided participants with opportunities to develop a sense of place, influencing their future decisions about where to live and work. Recommendations for ESPs, drawn from the research, include that funding for study abroad programs and field research should be made available to ensure all can access these experiences. Also recommended is having academic courses with a range of levels of activism, coupled with a range of class and club offerings on campus, which allows students to choose their level of engagement. Given attachments to place formed during the undergraduate years, and the subsequent desire for graduates to remain in those places, organizations interested in strengthening the environmental movement in particular regions could do so by increasing the strength of ESP offerings in those regions. In addition, once in the job, continued learning was vital in sustaining participants in their work; greater awareness of, and access to professional development is needed. Mentoring offers another avenue for supporting on-going learning. These regional ENP professionals are success stories, having persisted – even thrived – in a difficult profession. Despite the difficulties, they maintain generally positive personal and professional outlooks. Understanding their stories provides data about what can to be done to help sustain the existing leadership and improve the preparation of the future regional ENP leadership.