Dr. Katie Crosley




Katie's research utilizes urban ecology, anthropology, and education theory to understand the multi-scale interactions and outcomes of informal environmental education in urban settings. She is particularly interested in how different experiences shape learners' worldviews about the human-nature relationship and how these experiences can be leveraged to advance solutions to social and environmental problems. Her research interests also include urban social-ecological systems, mixed methodology, environmental psychology, natural resource management, and issues of race, class and gender in environmental and educational initiatives. Katie's dissertation research was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She is currently an adjunct instructor of environmental science in the Physics Department at Marquette University. 

Dissertation Abstract:

Contemporary environmental education in the U.S. seeks to help learners understand, negotiate, and advance solutions for complex socio-ecological issues. However, there has been growing evidence over the past 30 years that environmental education is not achieving this goal. Further, environmental education research has highlighted gaps in knowledge, theory, and methodology that have made understanding how environmental education impacts learners and learning in a variety of contexts difficult to grasp. To address these gaps, I engaged in an interdisciplinary mixed-method case-study, guided by civic ecology (Tidball & Krasny, 2010), of community-based organizations implementing environmental education programs for youth in Miami, FL. These programs operated at the intersection of emerging urban agriculture, food justice, and environmental movements in Miami, utilizing educational programs and farmer's markets as key learning environments for youth. Within this case-study I investigated socio-ecological learning processes and outcomes across three scales – urban socio-political, organization, and individual youth learners – to understand the particular features and broader context of this emerging informal environmental education sector. I conducted: (a) pre-, post-, and delayed-post surveys of learning outcomes using the New Ecological Paradigm (Manoli, Johnson, & Dunlap, 2007) and co-created questions, (b) semi-structured interviews with youth, their parents, community-based organizations, and key social network players, and (c) participant-observation of all community-based organization activities. For the analysis, I used both quantitative and qualitative techniques including nonparametric statistics, social network analysis, and theme-coding. The case-study specific results indicate that: (a) youth learners developed an increased sense of environmental crisis from their experience, but little else changed in their socio-ecological worldview, (b) youth learners felt the programs gave them an open-mind and made them more willing to try new things, (c) parents felt the programs gave their youth valuable life experience, (d) the community-based organizations had disjoints between their expectations and reality that made implementing their programs difficult, and (e) the urban socio-political level, including social networks and urban policies, presented substantial barriers to program implementation. These results shed light on the emerging forms of civic ecology in Miami and provide broader insights into how informal environmental education theory and practice can be improved.