Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Call Number

LB3241.2 .P375 2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Catherine Fallona, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Glenn Cummings, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Anthony Cortese


The purpose of this comparative case study was to deepen the understanding of post-secondary student sustainability leaders' motivations and identify the skills they have employed in order to inform the development of curricular and co-curricular sustainability leadership learning experiences. The study sought to answer three central research questions: What motivates students to become sustainability leaders in higher education settings? How do student sustainability leaders describe their role and effectiveness as leaders and in collaboration with or comparison to university personnel responsible for moving the institution's goals of sustainability forward? What leadership qualities and skills have student sustainability leaders used to transform complex higher education cultures? This study identified five potential participants currently engaged or engaged within the last three years in significant sustainability leadership initiatives in higher education. Three-part interviews were central to the study. Transcripts were coded in three stages: mindset, derived from the contrasting mindsets suggested by Schein (2015); skill set, derived from the sustainability leadership skills suggested by Tideman and Zandee (2013 ), Metcalf and Benn (2013 ), and Bendell and Little (2015); and open. Cross case analysis was used to identify themes consistent across participants. The five participants demonstrated a motivation to model, inspire and facilitate decision making that recognizes the interdependence and interconnectivity of human and nonhuman systems; expressed a personal or spiritual connection to nature; and spoke of their desire to benefit present and future systems. Participants demonstrated a shared skill set consistent with that suggested by Tideman and Zandee (2013 ), Metcalf and Benn (2013 ), and Bendell and Little (2015). These findings suggest that providing experiential, problem-based learning as well as peer and supervisory mentoring as part of sustainability education is of high value and that the shared skill set can be used to build learning outcomes, experiences and assessments. This study also suggests that higher education institutions reexamine their priorities, policies and practices across the entirety of their systems in order to ensure that sustainability is part of the fabric of their culture and model sustainability as a priority that cuts across disciplines and silos.



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