Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forestry and Natural Resources

Committee Chair

Bryan Pijanowski

Committee Member 1

Daniel Shepardson

Committee Member 2

Lynn Dierking

Committee Member 3

Rod Williams


Recent educational studies have shown increasing lack of interest and participation of youth (ages 10-14 years old) in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields in the U.S. The decline in the number of youth choosing to study STEM fields in higher education and the resulting lack of STEM professionals in the society has drastic economic impacts. Therefore, it is critical to introduce youth to quality STEM education that engages them with science practices and triggers their interest and curiosity in order to increase their participation in those fields. To address this issue, the aim of this study is to introduce a new ecological topic called soundscape ecology to middle school youth and high school students who are visually impaired. This study will use an informal summer camp setting to develop conceptual understanding, interest and identity in STEM via soundscape ecology. Soundscape ecology is a new emerging science that takes a holistic approach toward conservation biology and bridges across all STEM content areas. The focus of soundscape ecology is on the acoustic environment that is composed of different sounds originating from a variety of sources. The current study presents a combination of ecological and educational research. It includes an independent field research in soundscape ecology which led to the design of the soundscape ecology curriculum. The findings of the soundscape research supported the negative sonic and non-sonic impact of highways on bird biodiversity and acoustic diversity. It provided evidence of how forest interior specialist birds are attracted to habitats furthest from the highways because low frequency road noise masked their vocalizations and interrupted their communication. In addition, this study contains three qualitative research studies on the cognitive and affective development of participants in the soundscape ecology summer camp. The results of the qualitative studies show that the soundscape ecology curriculum is a great fit for an informal summer STEM camp setting and can be adapted for a variety of audiences with different abilities. Furthermore, the natural context of the soundscape camp allowed participants to engage with soundscape ecology in a natural setting, promoted their engagement with authentic technology and scientific practices, and supported collaboration with their peers and soundscape ecologists. Participants in the soundscape summer camp gained cognitive and affective development as they developed a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities involved in soundscape ecology. Importantly, the experience also broadened and deepened the students’ interests in science and being a scientist, as they developed a stronger scientific identity. The findings of this study have implications for STEM curriculum designers, researchers and informal education practitioners working on area of environmental education, youth interest development, conceptual understanding construction and science identity development.