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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Ryan Wells

Subject Categories

Higher Education | Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


Higher education, with its core purpose in the generation and transmission of knowledge, has a particular role to play in society’s response to the global ecological crisis. Yet a key question is whether higher education is part of the problem or part of the solution. Sustainability educators insist that higher education, if it is to adequately address these challenges, must shift away from “mechanism” – a rationalist worldview that historically has shaped higher education’s culture and practices – toward an integrative worldview and epistemology that will guide teaching and learning in the new millennium. Emergent pedagogies and student development theories that are situated in an integrative epistemology are two resources within higher education that can support college students as they grapple with the personal, academic, professional, and existential challenges of the climate crisis. However, current research on college student responses to climate change is typically not centered in an integrative framework. It therefore does not provide the kind of knowledge that can engage with these emergent pedagogies and student development theories and practices to enhance their capacity to address the needs of college students within the context of the climate crisis.

Using a conceptual framework derived from integrative worldview perspectives, this qualitative study employs constructivist grounded theory to investigate how emerging adults are making meaning of their lives within the context of the existential threats related to planetary ecological degradation. Through exploring connections among young adults’ feelings, thoughts and actions in their responses to the climate crisis, this study offers a conceptualization of identity, Planetary Identity, that is shaped by the reciprocal interrelationship of self and other, including the self in relationship with the other-than-human world. The study also engages in a preliminary exploration of possible connections between this conceptualization and integrative student development theories and integrative sustainability pedagogies. The aim of this exploration is to help initiate a conversation from both sides of higher education, academic affairs and student affairs, which seeks to fortify higher education’s capacity to support students and lead with compassion and justice in its response to the mounting challenges of the planetary ecological crisis.