Memories of Mentorship: The Significant Life Experiences of Female Activists in the Environmental Field

By Christopher Olsen.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: August 31, 2015 $US5.00

In 1980, Thomas Tanner performed the first study on significant life experiences, which are those experiences that developed environmental sensitivity and awareness and inspired action and active involvement in the environmental field. Several other studies eventually followed, including a larger diversity of participants in this research. In many of the previous research samples, however, the number of males interviewed is greater than the number of females and women’s perspectives are not commonly considered in research on significant life experiences. This study aims to include the perspectives of women in this research by answering the question: What significant life experiences and formative influences have led to women becoming active in the environmental field? In-depth interviews of seven female environmental activists were performed to determine the significant life experiences that influenced these women to become active in the environmental field. Several categories of significant life experiences were found in the data: outdoor experience, mentors, teachers and education, environmental organizations, social justice organizations, books, loss of valued natural space, movies and other media, and sea change moments. Of these categories, social justice organizations, movies and other media, and sea change moments are not found in past research. Further, the findings in this study with regard to mentorship suggest that mentorship plays a much larger role in future action in the environmental field than previously discussed. Mentorship appears intricately linked to many of the other categories of significant life experiences and provides an entry point for many new people to enter the environmental movement.

Keywords: Environmental Education, Environmental Activism, Significant Life Experiences

International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 11, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.11-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 31, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 575.855KB)).

Christopher Olsen

Graduate Student, Sustainability Coordinator, Environmental Studies Department, The University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA