Impacts of Environmental Education Mentoring Program on Student-Athletes Environmental Behaviors

Mullenbach, L. E., & Green, G. T. (2018). Can environmental education increase student-athletes' environmental behaviors?. Environmental Education Research, 24, 427 - 444.

Cultivating an environmentally literate citizenry is important to achieve sustainability, and universities are one place where students may gain these knowledge, skills, attitudes, and awareness. Student-athletes at the university level may have a greater negative impact on the environment than their peers, due in part to the travel and field maintenance. Because of this greater influence, they have the capacity to make even more significant changes to their lifestyle to become more sustainable. These student-athletes at the university level may also have difficulty balancing their academic schedules and their athletic schedules. As a result, student-athletes may not have time to participate in environmental education programs at their universities, which means they may know less about how their behavior is impacting the environment. Mentoring programs exist to provide these students with educational support. This study explored the impact of environmental mentoring on the student-athletes' environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.

Research suggests that knowing more about environmental topics may be insufficient to cause behavior change, though knowledge is a necessary component of pro-environmental behavior. Environmental education, such as the mentoring program in this study, involves teaching critical thinking, skills/competencies, and knowledge can help students change their attitudes and affect. These changes may cause learners to become more interested in environmental issues and live their lives and make decisions in environmentally-friendly ways. The researchers also explored the students' self-efficacy—or the belief in your own ability to take action or create change—as they see it as a necessary step bridging attitudes and behaviors.

This study examined the mentoring program at the University of Georgia. Student-athletes were underrepresented in environmental majors at this university. This program lasted 8 weeks and looked at topics of energy and water conservation, waste reduction, and food systems through short lectures for background accompanied by discussion questions/guides, short activities, and weekly “challenges.” The material was made as applicable to the lives of the students as possible. For example, one activity regarding energy consumption involved looking deeply into ways that their University saves energy on campus. Mentoring sessions were held in a computer lab on campus.

The researchers created a survey that measured environmental attitudes, knowledge, and behavioral intent, as well as academic self-efficacy, self-regulatory learning, motivation, and learning strategies. The researchers randomly assigned all 64 student-athletes in the mentoring program to a treatment or control group—33 received the environmental mentoring (the treatment group) and 31 continued their typical course of mentoring (the control group). Both groups took the survey before and after the program. To analyze the data, the researchers compared the before and after surveys within the groups of students receiving the EE mentoring, and compared the data between the group receiving the EE mentoring and the group that did not receive it. The researchers also looked into differences based on demographics.

The results showed that the environmental mentoring program impacted student-athletes behavioral intent, attitudes, and self-efficacy, but that there was still room to improve. Students, likely as a result of the program, became more likely to act in pro-environmental ways, felt more positively towards the environment, and gained a greater sense in their ability to take action. The results showed significant improvements in the categories of environmental behavioral intent and academic self-efficacy within the group that participated in environmental mentoring. Environmental attitudes saw a slightly significant improvement as well, suggesting that the environmental mentoring program may be effective at influencing students' attitudes.

Surprisingly, the control group saw significant improvements to environmental knowledge and the treatment group did not. The researchers hypothesize that this may be because a higher number of students in the control group were in environmentally-related classes. The results showed no significant differences among demographic groups of the measured environmental and academic metrics. There were also no significant differences between the groups that did or did not receive environmental mentoring on the post-mentoring survey results.

The researchers felt that the short time of the program may have made it less effective. The self-reported nature of the surveys also may cause inaccuracies. The researchers did not analyze the mentors' values and attitudes, which may have contributed to different outcomes among mentees. The small sample size made it more difficult to analyze smaller demographic groups, such as year in school or race among the treatment group. The researchers also acknowledge that it likely would have been better to hold the program outside, but a computer lab was what was required.

The researchers recommended extending the environmental mentoring to similar student-athlete mentor programs at other institutions. The researchers acknowledged that student-athletes are often campus leaders; thus their actions could have a wide reach in influencing others' actions. The researchers recommend grounding the curriculum with information relevant to the University, the students, and the location. This program is intended for student-athletes, but other tutoring programs could benefit from adopting a similar method.

The Bottom Line

<p>Due to their increased environmental impact and underrepresentation in environmental fields, student-athletes are an important target for environmental education. Through an 8-week environmental curriculum, the student-athletes showed significant advances in environmental behavioral intent, attitudes, and academic self-efficacy, as compared to a control group that did not receive the programming. If applied on a broader scale, this programming—or a modified version—could positively impact student-athletes' environmental literacy.</p>

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