Faculty Publications

Case Study Evaluation: Pieer Internship Program And Its Impact On Interns’ Self-Reported Attitudes And Behaviors Regarding Environmental Health Equity

Document Type



Environmental equity, Environmental internships, Environmental justice, Environmental racism, Environmental-based organizations, Sustainability

Journal/Book/Conference Title

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education





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Purpose: Environmental health disparities case studies are explored through a combination of lens including the naturome/nurturome, exposome [nature vs nurture] and multiple exposure-zone [place as predictor of health and wellbeing] concepts. This work places the educational program and experience within a theoretical framework using all these grounding theories. This provides an approach to experiential and transformative education in environmental equity/sustainability that we are calling transformative, trans-theoretical equity education, T2E2. This paper aims to describe this model, its grounding theories and provide real-world examples of this model in action through PIEER. Design/methodology/approach: The University of Northern Iowa’s environmental equity internship, Panther Initiative for Environmental Equity and Resilience, PIEER, engages students on multiple levels to view sustainability from an equity perspective. The experience seeks to immerse the student in an understanding of equity while also having a tangible impact in the community. Systems analysis of issues, through formal systems thinking approaches, inculcating practices that allow students to work through difficult equity and social justice implications, high vs. low context communication and leadership styles are discussed. Findings: Findings of the first evaluation of program impact indicate long-lasting benefits to this immersive experience. Findings of an evaluation survey of current and past PIEER interns (N = 30, n = 22/21; response ∼0.73/72) indicate that participants consistently rank the experience in the upper 25th percentile of benefit for their personal growth in understanding equity and environmental issues. They also note that the experience has led them to be more likely to engage in behaviors supporting both social justice and environmental concerns. Research limitations/implications: This evaluation consists of a small sample size which prevents the use of a mixed methods approach to evaluate the consistencies among the data. Practical implications: If society is to truly achieve equitable sustainability, we must accomplish this through both transformative theory and transformative experiences. Social implications: Providing both transformative theory and transformative experiences to students is an important foundational step in achieving equitable sustainability. Originality/value: The University of Northern Iowa has a unique environmental equity internship which is training students to revision sustainability from an equity perspective.


School of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Services

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DOI of published version



UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa