Publication Date

Summer 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies


Dustin Mulvaney


connection with nature, meaning-making, personal values, volunteerism, wilderness, working groups

Subject Areas

Environmental studies; Sociology; Social psychology


In an increasingly urbanized world, parks, open space and wilderness areas are vitally important to human well-being. California State Parks provide people with the ability to connect with nature and engage in outdoor recreation. Moreover, these parks protect natural and cultural resources and preserve biodiversity. California State Parks are underfunded and rely on volunteers to support essential park services. The Wilderness State Park Uniformed Volunteer Program provides essential recreation, resource protection, and biodiversity services. In order to determine the elements of the volunteering experience that contribute to a strong sense of volunteer identity and meaning, a qualitative case study was conducted using semi-structured interviews and grounded theory analysis. Results show that three themes emerge as providing a strong sense of meaning for volunteers: connecting with nature, working together, and helping others. Volunteers in this study demonstrated that they construct deep meaning around their volunteer experiences and foster an environmental stewardship identity within a framework of shared values, significance, goal-orientation, and belonging. This study has implications for volunteer satisfaction and retention as well as for overall sustainability of the parks’ mission.