Climate change, population growth, land use changes, and a society more tightly connected at a global scale are impacting our freshwater resources and are forcing some communities to respond to their changing environment. Communities that want to plan for a more sustainable future require fundamental information about social-ecological systems, a scientifically and sustainability literate population who can use information for decision-making, and high levels of adaptive capacity (i.e., access to and ability to mobilize human, social, natural, and financial capital). Through their tripartite mission of research, education, and service, institutions of higher education can help ensure that these community needs are met. Many institutions are already answering this call by engaging in sustainability science. There is, however, a lack of insight from the field of education informing the field of sustainability science. One result of this is that conceptual and applied models for sustainability science are not fully developed. The goal of this work was to develop and test a model, based on literature and best practice, that institutions of higher education could use to inform their work in sustainability science. This work used a case study, action research approach to test the developed model to determine if the expected outcomes were achieved. Results show that the model was effective in generating knowledge about freshwater systems and in increasing student researchers' scientific and sustainability literacy. Results also show that the original model slightly increased community adaptive capacity and a refined model is offered to improve outcomes in this area. One major contribution of this work is that it puts forth a new conceptual model suggesting that sustainability science is a field of research, learning, and community engagement. Another important contribution of this research is that offers a new applied model that demonstrates how society, through its institutions of higher education, can functionally and effectively integrate research, learning, and community to work in the field of sustainability science and foster sustainability in social-ecological systems. This study is potentially transformative in suggesting new ways that institutions of higher education can address the challenge of sustainability.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2013
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