What makes Penn State students go green? Examining 'most significant change' experiences in individuals' sustainability perceptions

Open Access
Ramacciotti, Francesca Adrienne
Area of Honors:
Environmental Resource Management
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Theodore Alter, Thesis Supervisor
  • Robert Shannon, Honors Advisor
  • sustainability
  • most significant change
  • behavior
  • perceptions
  • motivation
  • values
The goal of this research project is to examine what has had the most significant influence on sustainability perceptions and behaviors of students at Penn State University. While the university offers a variety of sustainability-related courses, extracurricular activities, and operations around campus, their true impact on students is not yet fully understood. Multiple theoretical perspectives, including Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivational Theory, and Schwartz’s Integrated Value System, provided structures for developing and interpreting the research. Utilizing an interview protocol based on Rick Davies’ Most Significant Change Theory and narrative inquiry theory, a group of ten sixth-semester and above students in the Community, Environment, and Development major were interviewed. Questions focused on changes in individualized perceptions with regard to sustainability, childhood influences on connections with the environment and civic engagement, effects on sustainable behavior, and specific experiences that have altered their perceptions most. The results obtained from the interviews offer insight into the current state of sustainability perceptions with a small group of environmentally-minded students at Penn State. With further research, including a broader range of students from across the university, recommendations would enhance current sustainability initiatives to more effectively influence Penn State students in their personal and professional lives upon graduation.