Date of Award

Fall 12-1-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences

Committee Chair

Kristy Daniel

Committee Chair Department

Biological Sciences

Committee Member 2

Micheal Davis

Committee Member 2 Department

Biological Sciences

Committee Member 3

Richard Mohn

Committee Member 3 Department

Educational Studies and Research

Committee Member 4

Aimee Thomas

Committee Member 4 Department

Biological Sciences

Committee Member 5

Brian Gearity

Committee Member 5 Department

Human Performance and Recreation


In recent years, there has been much concern over the decline of biologists who actually identify themselves to be naturalists, which negatively impacts the field of conservation and the study of biology as a whole. This could result in a decrease in individuals who participate in naturalist-like activities, such as informal environmental education and environmental volunteerism. The purpose of my study was to determine what discourse identities were held by naturalist development program participants, how these discourse identities related to their volunteer motives in environmental settings, and how discourse identity related to professional careers. I defined identity through the lens of discourse-identity, which describes a person’s identity as being conveyed through that individual’s communication and actions. I conducted individual interviews or used an online questionnaire to ask questions to naturalist development program attendees about their workshop experience, relationship with nature, volunteer motives and activities, as well as professional career or career aspiration. Volunteer motives were quantitatively measured in both types of program participants using the published Volunteer Motivation Questionnaire. Overall, I found the 100 study participants had six discourse identities: naturalist (n = 27), aspiring naturalist (n = 32), nature steward (n = 5), outreach volunteer (n = 6), casual nature observer (n = 22), and recreational nature user (n = 8). Naturalist development programs should focus on developing more naturalist-like discourse identities in their participants to help encourage participation in naturalist activities. Volunteer motives were ranked by importance to participants in the following order: helping the environment, learning, user, project organization, values and esteem, social, and career. The majority of Master Naturalist Program study participants that stated a career were in non-STEM careers; however, the majority of individuals with a naturalist or aspiring naturalist discourse identity did have careers in STEM. The OUTSIDE NDP study participants all expressed their intention to pursue STEM careers. By focusing on hands-on outdoor professional development, the development of naturalist discourse identities, and on developing the volunteer motives participants’ value, more individuals could be retained to assist with naturalist activities.