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Abstract

Role models may be essential in helping students develop environmental literacy and characteristics associated with positive youth development (PYD). We examine the identities of middle school students’ self-reported role models before, immediately after, and three months following an immersive 5-day residential environmental education (EE) experience that targets environmental responsibility, character development and leadership, and attitudes toward school as programmatic outcomes. We explore whether students who identified different types of role models score differently on these factors. Students who identified parents, teachers, and pastors as role models scored higher on each of these outcomes. Moreover, who students identified as role models changed significantly after the EE program. We discuss the potential influence of the program on role model development and implications for EE and PYD programs.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH, 2017
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2017.1313391
What dierence do role models make? Investigating outcomes at
a residential environmental education center
Marc J. Sterna, B. Troy Frensleya, Robert B. Powellb and Nicole M. Ardoinc
aDepartment of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, VA, USA; bDepartment of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management and Department of Forestry and
Natural Resources, Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA; cGraduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the
Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
ABSTRACT
Role models may be essential in helping students develop environmental
literacy and characteristics associated with positive youth development
(PYD). We examine the identities of middle school students’ self-reported role
models before, immediately after, and three months following an immersive
5-day residential environmental education (EE) experience that targets
environmental responsibility, character development and leadership, and
attitudes toward school as programmatic outcomes. We explore whether
students who identied dierent types of role models score dierently on
these factors. Students who identied parents, teachers, and pastors as role
models scored higher on each of these outcomes. Moreover, who students
identied as role models changed signicantly after the EE program. We
discuss the potential inuence of the program on role model development
and implications for EE and PYD programs.
1. Introduction
Role models may be important in helping students reach outcomes associated with environmental
education (EE) and positive youth development (PYD). Research on the formative signicant life expe-
riences (SLE) of environmentally active adolescents and adults consistently show the positive inuence
of role models in developing pro-environmental behaviors (Arnold, Cohen, and Warner 2009; Chawla
2007; Chawla and Cushing 2007; Chawla and Derr 2012; Schelly et al. 2012; Sivek 2002). In SLE research
conducted around the world, environmental educators, activists, and conservation professionals cite
experiences in nature as a child and the inuence of family members and other role models as being
the two most important factors for their concern for the environment as an adult (Chawla 1998, 1999;
Palmer and Suggate 1998; Palmer et al. 1998, 1999; Sward 1999). People learn from observations and
experiences with the people around them, among other ways (Bandura 1986, 1997). If the people
around a child exude caring and attentiveness towards nature and are supportive of experiences in
the outdoors, they may promote the child’s interest and sensitivity towards the natural world as well
(Chawla 2007; Chawla and Derr 2012; Heft and Chawla 2006).
Role models can also contribute to students’ sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Social contexts that promote these feelings tend to facilitate greater intrinsic motivation in students,
as demonstrated in extensive empirical research based on Ryan and Deci’s (2000) self-determination
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 29 June 2016
Accepted15 March 2017
KEYWORDS
Attitudes toward school;
character development;
environmental responsibility;
leadership; positive youth
development
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Marc J. Stern mjstern@vt.edu
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2017.1313391.
2 M. J. STERN ET AL.
theory (Furrer and Skinner 2003; Hurd and Sellers 2013; Ryan and Powlson 1991; Wentzel 1998). In gen-
eral, intrinsically motivated individuals, whose actions are derived from their own personal interests or
values (as opposed to extrinsicallymotivated individuals, who are driven by external accountabilities,
rewards, or sanctions), typically exhibit enhanced performance, persistence, creativity, self-esteem,
and general well-being (Ryan and Deci 2000). Role models can contribute to these outcomes through
providing opportunities for children to take responsibility, share their own opinions, and pursue their
own interests (autonomy); through oering constructive feedback or praise and sharing knowledge
(competence); and through providing a safe and welcoming space for reection, aliation, and sup-
port, free from derision or harsh judgment (relatedness). Within the context of EE programming, we
thus might expect that role models may contribute to various outcomes, including enhanced learning,
motivation, social interactions, positive environmental dispositions or attitudes, perceptions of self-
ecacy, or other outcomes commonly associated with EE or PYD.
Although not historically a core focus of EE, PYD outcomes align with many EE outcomes and
approaches (Krasny et al. 2015). PYD is concerned with a child’s physical, intellectual, psychological, and
social well-being (Schusler and Krasny 2010). Some typical PYD outcomes include: fostering resilience,
developing a positive identity, building compassion for others, enhancing decision-making abilities
and understanding the implications of those decisions, among others (Catalano et al. 2004; Lerner
et al. 2005; Smith 2007). These overlap considerably with key elements of environmental literacy as well
as other frequently desired and reported outcomes of EE programs, in particular themes of empower-
ment, critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving and personal development (Ardoin, Biedenweg,
and O’Connor 2015; Dettman-Easler and Pease 1996; Stern, Powell, and Ardoin 2010; Stern, Powell, and
Hill 2014). The inuence of role models on desired elements of PYD is well established in the literature
(Catalano et al. 2004).
Children may identify a variety of individuals as role models, including parents, other family mem-
bers, teachers, peers, and even celebrities. Role modeling can be particularly inuential coming from
older individuals (Chawla and Derr 2012; Edmondson 2006; Tanner 1980). Parents, or other inuential
family members, are the most commonly cited role models in SLE research (Arnold, Cohen, and Warner
2009; Chawla 1998, 2007; Chawla and Cushing 2007) and PYD research (Anderson and Cavallaro 2002;
Bricheno and Thornton 2007) and generally have a positive inuence on associated outcomes. Although
teachers may be less frequently cited as role models than others (Biskup and Pster 1999; Bricheno and
Thornton 2007; Darling-Hammond 2000; Irvine 1989), they have been shown to positively inuence
both EE and PYD outcomes (Davis 2006; Goodenow 1993; Harter 1996; Osterman 2000; Sivek 2002;
Stern, Powell, and Ardoin 2008; Wentzel 1998). Peers may also serve as important role models, as peer
accomplishments may trigger an individuals’ self-assessment, leading to altered motivations and actions,
though their inuences may not always be positive (Bandura 1982; Chawla and Cushing 2007; Schunk,
Hanson, and Cox 1987; Véronneau and Dishion 2011). Celebrity role models are also commonly cited in
PYD research (Bricheno and Thornton 2007), and studies show mixed inuences (Collins 1996; Lockwood
and Kunda 1997, 2000). Overall, research ndings suggest that adults with whom children interact
directly (we use the term ‘known adults’) may often have the strongest positive inuences (Bradshaw
1995, Hurd and Sellers 2013; Legault, Green-Demers, and Pelletier 2006; Werner 1995).
To date, we know of no empirical study that has explicitly examined the relationship between role
model identication and the outcomes of EE programs, nor the potential interaction between EE pro-
gramming and role model identication. The population of students attending the NorthBay Adventure
Center (‘NorthBay’) program, located innortheastern Maryland on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay,
provides a unique opportunity to examine how intentional eorts to help students seek role models
might contribute to both EE and PYD outcomes. NorthBay serves a diverse population of middle school
students from urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout Maryland, and the program intentionally
includes extensive messaging about the importance of positive role models in students’ lives. We con-
ducted surveys with students attending the 5-day NorthBay program before, immediately after, and
three months following their NorthBay experience to examine the relationships between role model
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 3
identication and three outcomes: character development and leadership, environmental responsibility,
and attitudes toward school. The key research questions we address are:
(1) Do students with dierent role models exhibit dierences in character development and
leadership, environmental responsibility, and attitudes toward school?
(2) Can a residential EE program inuence the identities of students’ role models?
(3) Do students that change their role models after an EE program exhibit meaningful changes
in character development and leadership, environmental responsibility, and attitudes toward
school?
We provide more detail about the NorthBay program below prior to explaining the study’s methods.
1.1. NorthBay programming
NorthBay hosts 5-day residential programs for visiting school groups from inner-city Baltimore and
nearby rural and suburban areas. The program comingles elements of traditional EE and PYD (Stern,
Powell, and Ardoin 2010). During the day, students participate in traditional EE programs, including
investigating wetlands, observing birds and other wildlife, participating in nature walks, and exploring
the coastal habitat. EE programming at NorthBay generally follows the ‘Investigating and Evaluating
Environmental Issues and Actions’ model (Hungerford et al. 2003); in NorthBay’s case, this entails learn-
ing about particular aspects of the natural environment, making observations and collecting data, and
discussing multiple viewpoints of associated environmental issues. In the evenings, NorthBay partic-
ipants attend multi-media live theatre performances in which the NorthBay instructors demonstrate
connections between key environmental concepts covered during the day and aspects of the students’
everyday lives. The educators draw analogies, for example, between invasive species and crime and
drugs; biological diversity and cultural diversity; ecological niches and students’ abilities to make their
own decisions about the niche(s) they choose to occupy in their own communities; and environmental
lters, such as wetlands, and role models, who may serve as lters for participants in their home lives.
Throughout the week, the NorthBay instructors use group discussions, reection, and journaling
to encourage students to consider how they will apply what they have learned at NorthBay back to
their home environment; educators also encourage students to seek out and/or recognize the positive
role models in their lives. The live evening show incorporates lm, discussion, music, and interviews,
all of which are designed to address tough, relevant issues and help students recognize the value of
positive role models. The nal lessons and activities at NorthBay center on developing an action plan
for students to fulll in their personal lives, at school, or in their community when returning home. Role
models (a.k.a, ‘positive lters’) in students’ lives often gure prominently in these plans.
NorthBay employs a diverse team of educators, counselors, adventure activity sta, and live evening
show performers to ensure that students interact with people of a range of races, ages, genders, and
personalities. Some are from the same neighborhoods as NorthBay’s urban attendees. As such, students
come into contact with many potential role models during their time at NorthBay. Students are also
accompanied by school teachers, principals, and parent chaperones who attend lessons, adventure
activities, meals, and the live evening show alongside the students. While at NorthBay, students interact
with these adults nearly continuously, in formal and informal ways; as such, the program is structured to
provide opportunities for students to envision these adults as role models (Higgs and McMillan 2006).
During the daytime lessons, for example, visiting adults (teachers and chaperones) are encouraged to
participate in novel, hands-on learning alongside the students; these activities include wading knee-
deep in a wetland in search of frogs; lifting logs to explore the diversity of fungus in the forest; sifting
through mud to collect population data on clams; and seining for sh in the Chesapeake Bay. During
meal times, students have the opportunity to nominate adults to participate in on-stage games, such
as musical chairs or trivia. Adults can also participate in adventure activities (e.g. high ropes course,
kayaking), if they so desire, alongside the students. During the nal live evening show, all adults who
4 M. J. STERN ET AL.
attend the program are invited to join NorthBay educators on the stage; the students then line up to
hug and high-ve the adults in their lives as thanks for their positive support.
2. Methods
Since NorthBay was opened in 2006, the residential EE organization has had in place a systematic eval-
uation system, which includes pre-experience surveys administered to students upon their arrival to
NorthBay on Monday, immediate post-experience surveys just before their departure on Friday, and a
three-month follow-up survey administered at students’ schools by their classroom teachers. The rele-
vant components of these surveys reported in this paper include three outcome measures: (1) character
development and leadership, (2) environmental responsibility, and (3) attitudes toward school. A single
questionwas asked on each survey regarding students’ role models. The three outcome measures were
developed in concert with NorthBay sta in close consultation with the EE literature, extensively pilot
tested, and further validated following scale development procedures recommended by DeVellis (2003),
including conrmatory factor analysis procedures resulting in excellent t (S-Bχ2=183.68; CFI=0.981;
SRMR=0.038; RMSEA=0.029) and invariance testing across multiple samples (Powell et al. 2011). We
include the items for each index in Table 1, along with internal reliability measures (Cronbach’s α).
Table 1.Individual survey items comprising each index.
aConditional tense used in immediate post-experience surveys only.
bInverse used to construct index.
Environmental Responsibility Index (Cronbach’s α: 0.73–0.79) Response options
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Five-point scale: Strongly disagree
to strongly agree My actions impact the health of the environment
I have the power to help protect the environment
I can make a change in my community
Please check the box that best describes your level of interest in each of the following
activities
Five-point scale: Not interested to
very interested
Learning about how to protect the environment
Working to make my community a better place
How often do you (plan to) do the following things?aFive-point scale: Never to always
I (will) work as a volunteer in my community
Character Development and Leadership Index (Cronbach’s α: 0.68–0.76) Question type
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Five-point scale: Strongly disagree
to strongly agree The choices I make today can change my entire life
I have people who support me when I need help
I can be a good leader
How often do you (plan to) do the following things?aFive-point scale: Never to always
I (will) take responsibility for my mistakes
I (will) talk to my friends about making positive life choices
I (will) research things that I am curious about
I (will) talk to my family or friends outside of school about what I’ve learned
Attitudes Toward School Index (Cronbach’s α: 0.76–0.81) Question type
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Five-point scale: Strongly disagree
to strongly agree I enjoy school
Going to school is a waste of time for meb
I have teachers who really care about me
I have teachers who truly believe that I will succeed
Please check the box that best describes your level of interest in each of the following
activities
Five-point scale: Not interested to
very interested
Learning about new subjects in school
Going to college
How often do you (plan to) do the following things?aFive-point scale: Never to always
I (will) pay attention to the teacher in class
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 5
The role model question was phrased, ‘Do you have someone you consider to be a role model to
you?’ Students answering armatively were then asked to place a check mark beside all the dierent
role models in their lives from a pre-populated list or to write in one or more dierent role model
types in an ‘other’ category. The pre-populated list of role model types included: a teacher; a brother
or sister; a parent; a friend; a celebrity (e.g. actor, athlete, musician); and a pastor. Role model data were
collected on each pre-experience, post-experience, and follow-up survey to examine changes in role
models over time.
2.1. Data collection
Data reported in this manuscript are derived from student surveys completed during the 2011–2012,
2012–2013, and 2013–2014 program years (n=5,498). Surveys were administered during at least ve
weeks in each school year. NorthBay administrators, with guidance from program researchers/evalu-
ators, selected survey weeks to ensure a sample of diverse school types from a range of geographic
densities (rural, suburban, and urban). Our analyses include data from 59 schools (urban=28; subur-
ban=24; rural=7); these classications were derived from the National Center for Educational Statistics
(NCES). Nearly all of the urban school populations were predominantly African American or Latino from
low-income families. Suburban schools were more mixed, and rural schools were predominantly White
with mixed socioeconomic backgrounds.
NorthBay sta administered pre-experience surveys the morning students arrived and post-
experience surveys the nal afternoon before students departed. Follow-up surveys were adminis-
tered o-site by participating teachers three months later and mailed to NorthBay sta for data entry.
Students were promised condentiality and did not include their names on their surveys, but rather
their initials and birthdates. These codes were used for matching students’ responses to each survey.
Of all students participating in the survey weeks, 57% (from 34 schools) completed follow-up surveys.
This response rate was due to logistical diculties in obtaining some follow-up surveys, absences on
the day of the follow-up survey as well as school year timing (in some cases, schools that attended
NorthBay later in the school year were already out of school by the three-month follow-up date). No
specic patterns were observed in non-response regarding post-experience outcome scores or role
model reporting. As the majority of non-response was due to school-year timing, rather than desire (or
lack thereof) to complete the surveys, we do not suspect systematic bias resulting from the follow-up
sample regarding the survey items in question.
Trained NorthBay sta entered the survey data into an Excel spreadsheet. Two of the authors dou-
ble-checked the spreadsheet to correct any data entry errors. All analyses were conducted using SPSS,
version 23.
2.2. Analyses
To address our rst research question, we conducted independent samples t-tests to examine whether
students who reported dierent role models exhibited dierent degrees of character development
and leadership, environmental responsibility, and attitudes toward school in each survey. We use the
complete samples for each survey to examine dierences in mean scores between individuals that
selected dierent role model types.
To address the second research question, we examined the distribution of role model types before,
immediately after, and three months after the NorthBay experience using simple chi-square tests to
determine the statistical signicance of observed changes between the surveys. We tracked changes
for individual students in each reported role model type, recording role model types that individuals
gained (present after the program but not before), lost (present before the program, but not after), and
retained (reported both before and after).
Next, we examined the relationship between changes (e.g., loss, no change, or gain) in the role
models students reported and changes in outcomes following the NorthBay program. We focused on
6 M. J. STERN ET AL.
changes in role models reported three months after the NorthBay program, as the program’s intent was
to inuence students once they had returned to their home environments. We calculated long-term
change scores for each index by subtracting pre-experience index scores from three-month follow-up
scores. Prior to conducting additional analyses, we examined intraclass correlation coecients (ICC-1)
for each outcome to examine whether school aliation explained a meaningful portion of the variance
observed in changes in outcome scores and to determine whether a multilevel model would be appro-
priate. ICC-1 measures the proportion of variance in the outcome that can be attributed to a higher-level
unit; in this case, a student’s school. If a high degree of variance is explained by school membership,
the assumption of independence of the data necessary for individual level statistical tests would be
violated. This would suggest that a multilevel model that accounts for the relative inuences of the
individual (level 1) and their school group (level 2) would be appropriate (Bliese and Hanges 2004).
ICC-1 scores for all change in outcome’ scores were quite low (ranging from 0.02 to 0.06), suggesting
the vast majority of variance was observed at the level of the individual (Ozkaya et al. 2013; Woehr et al.
2015). As such, we conducted all analyses at the individual level, though we acknowledge that school
membership likely also has a role in student outcomes. Our primary interest is in whether the program
seemed to inuence changes in the selection of role models and whether students that changed role
models scored dierently on the EE and PYD outcomes of interest.
We used one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with posthoc tests (Tukey’s b and Dunnett’s c) to
compare mean change scores on the EE and PYD outcomes of students who had gained, retained,
or lost certain types of role models three months following the program. To examine the strength of
dierences in mean index change scores, we conducted an eects size analysis using Cohen’s d for all
cases in which ANOVA indicated signicant dierences between two groups.
To understand the potential change that may have been brought about by the NorthBay program,
we performed analyses only for those students who completed all three surveys. For these analyses, the
sample sizes are 3,137 students, representing 7 rural, 13 suburban, and 14 urban schools; 1,065 rural
students, 1,275 suburban students, and 797 urban students completed all three surveys.1
3. Results
3.1. Role models and EE and PYD index scores
To investigate whether students with dierent types of role models scored dierently on EE and PYD
indexes, we conducted independent samples t-tests to compare means of each index for students who
reported specic role models in each survey. In Table 2, we report the Cohen’s d eect sizes of dierences
in means. We provide complete t-test statistics in Appendix 1 in Supplemental Data. Cohen’s d scores
of 0.2 are considered small (yet still meaningful), 0.5 medium or moderate, and 0.8 large (Cohen 1988).
Students who reported having at least one role model exhibited higher mean scores on all indexes
than those students who did not, exhibiting moderate to large eect sizes (0.5–0.9, averaging 0.69
across all indexes at all points in time). Students reporting parents, teachers, or pastors as role models
also exhibited more positive scores on each index than those who did not (Cohen’s d near or above
0.3). Other reported role models appeared to have generally positive relationships with the EE and PYD
indexes, but most had negligible eect sizes (Cohen’s d below 0.2), and some relationships were not
statistically signicant (α=0.05). Overall, students who expressed known adults (parents, teachers, and
pastors) as role models exhibited higher scores on each EE and PYD index than students with no role
model or other types of role models.
3.2. Role models before and after the NorthBay experience
Table 3 shares students’ reported role models for those who completed all three surveys (n=3.137). Most
students reported multiple role model types, averaging 1.6 types prior to their NorthBay experience
and 2.0 both immediately after and three months later. The most commonly reported role model type
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 7
was a parent. The most common write-in responses included other family members, such as a grand-
parents, an aunt, or an uncle. A higher proportion of students reported having role models after the
NorthBay experience than before the experience, with largest increases in those reporting teachers and
parents. We recorded statistically signicant (α=0.05) short-term gains in all role model types, except
celebrities. Three months following the NorthBay experience, the proportion of students reporting all
role model types was statistically signicantly greater than pre-experience scores.
We compared students’ responses on pre-experience and post-experience surveys to examine
changes in reported role models on a student-by-student basis. Immediately following the NorthBay
experience, 56.3% of students changed who they reported as role models. Three months later, 70.6%
reported a dierent conguration of role model types than they did prior to their NorthBay experience.
These ndings provide some limited evidence that the NorthBay experience may have had meaningful
impacts on long-term role model identication for program participants. However, countless additional
factors may have intervened in the three months following the program (see Discussion for more on
interpreting these ndings).
Table 4 provides a summary of reported role model gains and losses following the NorthBay program.
Of those who did not report any role model prior to the NorthBay experience (n=336), 51% (n=172)
reported one immediately after and 64% (n=214) did so three months later. The most commonly gained
role model types on the immediate post-experience surveys were parents (17.5%) and teachers (15.8%).
On the three-month follow-up survey, 6.8% of students who did not report any role model before the
NorthBay experience reported at least one at this point in time. Parents (16.6%), friends (16.5%), and
celebrities (15.1%) were the most commonly gained role models over the longer term. The most com-
monly discarded role models were celebrities (7.6%) in the short term and parents in the longerterm
(11.1%), suggesting that students’ perceptions of appropriate role models had likely shifted after their
participation in the NorthBay program.
Table 2.Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) of index means comparisons between students reporting specific role model types versus those
who did not report that specific type for pre-experience (1), post-experience (2), and follow-up (3) surveys.
Note: NS indicates no statistically significant difference (p>0.05). All statistically significant effects of role models were positive.
Role model
Character development and
leadership Environmental responsibility Attitudes toward school
123123123
At least one 0.71 0.81 0.93 0.52 0.59 0.67 0.60 0.63 0.78
Parent 0.40 0.39 0.41 0.29 0.31 0.29 0.38 0.42 0.40
Teacher 0.47 0.41 0.38 0.40 0.38 0.43 0.48 0.46 0.49
Sibling 0.15 0.21 0.19 0.04 0.18 0.17 0.12 0.12 0.17
Friend 0.26 0.21 0.20 0.23 0.24 0.22 0.13 0.12 0.10
Celebrity 0.14 0.14 0.15 NS 0.09 0.10 NS NS NS
Pastor 0.56 0.40 0.39 0.38 0.45 0.40 0.35 0.41 0.27
Other family NS 0.19 0.22 NS NS 0.23 NS NS 0.15
Table 3.Role models reported by students who completed all three surveys (n=3.137).
Notes: Asterisks indicate a statistically significant (p≤0.01) increase from pre-experience reporting (chi-square tests).
Role model Before (%) After (%) Follow-up (%)
Any 89.3 93.1* 92.5*
Teacher 17.9 30.5* 23.7*
Sibling 22.9 27.5* 27.1*
Parent 50.9 64.9* 56.5*
Friend 22.8 28.0* 29.6*
Celebrity 30.6 29.0* 36.2*
Pastor 6.0 8.5* 8.3*
Other family (write-in) 4.2 4.9* 6.2*
Other (write-in or unspecified) 7.6 9.6* 10.2*
8 M. J. STERN ET AL.
3.3. Changes in role models after the NorthBay experience and changes in mean scores of EE
and PYD outcomes
We examined mean changes in EE and PYD outcomes for students whose reported role models shifted
after their NorthBay experiences. Table 5 compares dierences in students’ mean change scores on
each index for those who lost, gained, or experienced no change in their reported role models. We cal-
culated mean change scores by subtracting pre-experience index scores from follow-up index scores.
The following discussion highlights statistically meaningful dierences from the ‘no change’ condition.
Those who gained a role model after the NorthBay experience – in particular those who named
teachers or parents as the role models they gained – exhibited more positive outcomes (changes in
outcome scores) associated with the NorthBay program than those students who did not. Students
who lost role models following the program exhibited more negative results; this trend was particularly
strong for those who reported a pastor, parents, or teachers as role models prior to the experience but
no longer did so after the experience. Students who reported gaining a pastor as role model, however,
did not exhibit higher index change scores than those who experienced no change. Cohen’s d eect
sizes on changes in index scores are provided in Table 6. Most eect sizes were small to moderate.
4. Discussion
Students who identied having role models, in particular known adults, generally exhibited more pos-
itive measures of environmental responsibility, character development and leadership, and attitudes
toward school. More than half of the students attending the NorthBay program changed who they
Table 4.Role model changes after participation in the NorthBay program.
Role model type
Immediate post-experience Three month follow-up
Gain (%) Loss (%) Gain (%) Loss (%)
At least one role model 5.5 1.7 6.8 3.6
Parent 17.5 3.5 16.6 11.1
Teacher 15.8 3.2 13.6 7.8
Sibling 10.1 5.5 13.1 8.9
Friend 11.7 6.5 16.5 9.7
Celebrity 5.9 7.6 15.1 9.5
Pastor 3.9 1.4 4.9 2.6
Other family 2.3 1.6 4.2 2.3
Table 5.ANOVA with posthoc tests (Tukey’s b and Dunnett’s c) comparing the means of changes in environmental responsibility,
character development, and attitudes toward school for those whose role models changed and those whose role models did not
change three months following the NorthBay experience.
Notes: Superscripts indicate statistically significant differences between groups (L=loss; N=no change; G=gain).
Role model
type
Mean changes in index scores between pre-experience and follow-up surveys
Environmental responsibility
Character development and
leadership Attitudes toward school
Loss
No
change Gain Loss
No
change Gain Loss
No
change Gain
Any role
model
−0.23NG 0.06LG 0.25LN −0.19NG 0.10LG 0.27LN −0.24NG 0.01LG 0.13LN
Parent −0.11NG 0.06LG 0.18LN −0.05NG 0.10LG 0.20LN −0.14NG 0.01LG 0.10NG
Teacher −0.01G0.04G0.23LN −0.02NG 0.10LG 0.24LN −0.11NG 0.00LG 0.15LN
Sibling 0.05 0.06 0.12 0.04G0.10G0.19LN −0.03 0.00G0.08N
Friend 0.03 0.05G0.14N0.06G0.09G0.17LN 0.02 0.00 0.06
Celebrity 0.03 0.05 0.13 0.11G0.08G0.21LN 0.07 0.00 0.02
Pastor −0.18NG 0.06L0.18L−0.16NG 0.11L0.19L−0.12 0.01 0.03
Other family −0.01 0.05 0.06 0.19 0.09 0.12 −0.10 0.01 −0.01
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 9
reported as role models immediately after completing the program, and more than 70% of the students
reported changes in their role model choices in the three-month follow-up survey, with statistically
signicant gains in the overall reporting of all types of role models.
The ndings, when considered in light of the program design at NorthBay, suggest that the program
seems to encourage students to reconsider who role models might be for them. However, this nding
comes with an important caveat. We know little about how often such reconsiderations might take place
in the absence of the NorthBay program at this age, as we were unable to locate any empirical study
regarding the frequency of role model changes for middle school students. Theoretically, individuals
are most apt to seek out new role models during periods of transition, particularly as they adapt their
own self-concept to a new situation or challenge (Gibson 2003). As adolescents are typically deeply
embroiled in the process of identity formation, they may be particularly likely to assign role model
status to multiple entities in an eort to explore ‘possible selves, or potential images of themselves in
the future (Cross and Markus 1991; Erikson 1968; Gibson 2003; Hurd and Zimmerman 2011; Lempers
and Clark-Lempers 1992). With this in mind, we are unable to denitively claim that NorthBay actually
changed the role models of the students who attended. However, we can surmise that a focus on role
models may be worthwhile for future EE programming and research.
Changes in role models were linked with changes in EE and PYD outcomes. Students who gained a
role model following their NorthBay experience exhibited greater gains in each of the key outcomes
of the program when compared with students who did not report such gains. Students who gained
teachers and/or parents as role models exhibited the most positive gains in EE and PYD outcomes.
Students who ceased reporting certain role models commonly exhibited declines in outcome scores.
This trend was particularly strong for those who no longer reported known adults, including teachers,
parents, and pastors.
Taken together, the ndings suggest at least two important themes for EE programs. First, known
adults (parents, teachers, and pastors), rather than more distant adults – such as celebrities – emerged
as the role models most consistently linked with positive attitudes and intentions among students.
This nding is consistent with research in other elds as well (e.g., Hurd and Zimmerman 2011). A
review of the literature in EE, political socialization, and active citizenship by Chawla and Cushing
(2007) suggests that having parents, other family members, and teachers as role models can foster
environmentally responsible behavior, civic action, and a sense of individual competence in youth. PYD
and educational psychology research consistently nds the relationship between students and known
adults, particularly parents and teachers, to be one of the most important factors in student success
across diverse contexts (Legault, Green-Demers, and Pelletier 2006; Rosenfeld, Richman, and Bowen
2000; Scrimsher and Trudge 2003; Wentzel 1999; Woolley and Grogan-Kaylor 2006; Woolley, Kol, and
Table 6.Cohen’s d effect sizes of index score changes for statistically significant differences between students who gained or lost
role models following the NorthBay program.
Notes: NS indicates no statistically significant difference (p>0.05). All statistically significant effects of role models were positive.
Role model type gained
or lost
Cohen’s d eect size
Change in environmental
responsibility
Change in character devel-
opment and leadership
Change in attitudes toward
school
Gained first role model 0.27 0.30 0.20
Lost all role models −0.43 −0.48 −0.43
Gained a parent 0.20 0.21 0.19
Lost a parent −0.28 −0.28 −0.30
Gained a teacher 0.30 0.29 0.28
Lost a teacher NS −0.23 −0.23
Gained a sibling NS 0.18 0.14
Gained a friend 0.13 0.15 0.11
Gained a celebrity 0.12 0.23 NS
Lost a pastor −0.37 −0.49 −0.26
Entire sample 0.10 0.18 NS
10 M. J. STERN ET AL.
Bowen 2009). Students’ relationships with non-parental adults (e.g., teachers) may become increasingly
important during the transition to middle school as they look for role models and support (Lee et al.
1999; Wigeld, Eccles, and Rodriguez 1998).
Second, the combination of exposure to new role models on-site at NorthBay and the direct encour-
agement to consider potentially familiar (or new) role models in their own communities likely explains
at least some of the variance in the role models identied by students in this study.2 However, our
study is limited by the lack of a control group that could resolve our uncertainty about the stability
(or instability) of role model reporting that we may have observed in absence of the NorthBay pro-
gram. Moreover, the presence/absence data collected in the survey do not address the quality of any
particular role model, nor how students dened what being a role model means to them. We expect
that denitions likely coalesced for most students following the NorthBay program, and this may have
inuenced many of the changes in students’ reporting. Future research would benet from adding a
qualitative component to any similar investigation to understand the factors most powerfully driving
role model changes. Furthermore, more nuanced treatment of the home and school environments
could reveal additional inuential factors.
5. Conclusion
The study’s ndings reinforce prior research that role models, particularly known adults, appear to exert
meaningful inuences on students’ character development and leadership, environmental responsi-
bility, and attitudes toward school. Despite its limitations, the study suggests that EE can be designed
to inuence students’ consideration of their role models and perhaps provide them with motivation to
make important new connections. NorthBay makes explicit eorts to integrate environmental content
with references to social contexts and social support structures in students’ home communities. In this
way, programs such as NorthBay have the potential to bring to the forefront the importance of stu-
dents’ relationships with known adults as well as the benets that students can receive from forging or
strengthening these bonds. Moreover, the integration of EE and PYD outcomes within program design
and implementation may further strengthen the interactions between environmental attitudes and dis-
positions and students’ day-to-day lives in their home communities following their on-site experiences
(see Stern, Powell, and Ardoin 2010). We thus encourage EE practitioners to incorporate intentional
techniques, such as those described in this paper, that highlight the importance of role models in the
lives of the students who participate in their programs. We also encourage EE researchers, as well as
others, to further explore the mechanisms through which perceptions about role models shift over
time and as a result of dierent expriences.
Notes
1. Explorations of dierential reporting and eects of role models on urban, suburban, and rural students yielded
little concrete evidence of meaningful dierences between the groups. Because the groups are not necessarily
representative of larger urban, suburban, or rural populations, we do not report on subpopulations.
2. Moreover, low ICC-1 values suggest that very little variance in outcome changes could be accounted for by
attendance at a specic school.
Acknowledgements
The authors thank the NorthBay sta for their commitment to evaluation and thank the visiting teachers and students
who participated in the surveys.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION RESEARCH 11
Funding
This work was supported by the NorthBay Adventure Center.
Notes on contributors
Marc J. Stern is an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation where he
teaches courses in environmental education and interpretation, social science research methods, and the human dimen-
sions of natural resource management. His research focuses on human behavior within the contexts of natural resource
planning and management, protected areas, and environmental education and interpretation.
B. Troy Frensley is a PhD candidate in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University. His research interests include environmental education; environmentalinter-
pretation; program evaluation; motivation and engagement; and citizen science.
Robert B. Powell is a professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management and the School of
Agricultural, Forest, and Environmental Sciences. He teaches courses in recreation and protected areas management. His
research focuses on education and communication, protected areas management, and sustainable tourism development.
Nicole M. Ardoin is an associate professor in the GraduateSchool of Education and the Woods Institute for the Environment
at Stanford University. She researches environmental behavior as inuenced by environmental learning and motivated by
place-based connections. She also focuses on evaluation and adaptive management to understand how education and
other social engagement strategies work to achieve conservation results.
ORCID
Marc J. Stern http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0294-8941
Nicole M. Ardoin http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3290-8211
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