Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Dibble, Eric D.

Committee Member

Pope, Margaret

Committee Member

Jones, W. Daryl

Committee Member

Tegt, Jessica L.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Forest Resources


Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture


Stagnant science achievement by students, greater demands and stresses on natural resources and environmental systems, and societal disengagement from nature highlight the need for education programs to ameliorate subsequent consequences. One attempt to address science performance and environmental apathy is Youth Environmental Science (YES), an environmental education program initiated in 2011 in a rural, minority-dominated, upper elementary school in Mississippi. The program provides five consecutive days (30 hours) of experiential learning in natural sciences. During 2011-2013, I studied cognitive and affective responses of fourth and fifth grade students to YES participation using a pretest-posttest-delayed posttest design. The influence of demographic factors (race/ethnicity, gender, and economic status) on student responses was also examined. Compared to pretest scores, posttest knowledge and attitude scores were higher for YES participants, indicating the pedagogy was effective at promoting knowledge gains and positive environmental attitudes. Higher values were associated with female, non-Black, or higher income students; however, gains in both knowledge and attitude were similar across all demographic groupings, suggesting students from diverse backgrounds benefitted equally. Year-end proficiency exams indicated natural science knowledge gained by fourth and fifth grade students during their participation in YES did not decline with time, demonstrating retention and application of content knowledge. Moreover, although Black and low income fifth grade students had lower proficiency scores, these groups showed generally increasing trends in exam performance with elapsed time. This pattern suggests experiential and intensive environmental education interventions scheduled early in the academic year may be effective for sensitizing students for classroom learning that follows later in the year. This may be particularly impactful to those students who may experience fewer science enrichment and outdoor opportunities and thereby provide a mechanism for reducing achievement gaps among demographic groups.