Date of Award

Spring 2022

Project Type


Program or Major

Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Melissa Aikens

Second Advisor

Andrew Coppens

Third Advisor

Jenny Dauer


Socioscientific issues (SSIs), or controversial scientific issues with social implications, influence members of society regardless of demographic. SSIs are contentious and ill-structured, meaning they do not have a definitive answer. To properly equip students with the tools needed to handle SSIs, undergraduate science curricula emphasize scientific literacy skills, such as the ability to search, recognize, and utilize accurate scientific information when handling science driven issues outside of the classroom. However, SSIs are influenced by political, social, economic, and cultural stakeholders. Therefore, students may not be basing their SSI decisions off of accurate information. An individual’s personal epistemology is known to contribute toward how someone thinks, perceives, and behaves surrounding ill-structured problems. Personal epistemology is defined as an individual’s personal theories surrounding knowledge and knowing. This dissertation examines how epistemological mechanisms contribute toward undergraduate students’ SSI decision-making processes through qualitatively investigating how (1) students evaluate evidence during SSI decision-making, (2) how students justify their use of evidence when explaining their SSI decisions, and how (3) identity commitments from sociocultural in-groups relate toward students’ ways of knowing during SSI decision-making. The results of this dissertation explain how students are utilizing information when handling SSIs. By furthering our understanding of these processes, instructors of science courses may tailor their coursework to acknowledge the various ways of knowing students are drawing upon when thinking through an SSI. By doing so, instructors can create learning environments that encourage objectivity when discussing SSIs within the classroom.