Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Educational Administration

Major Professor

Norma T. Mertz

Committee Members

Vincent Anfara, Ralph Brockett and Trish McClam


Despite extensive evidence supporting the positive effect of peer leaders on the students with whom they work, and anecdotal reports that the experience is rewarding for the peer leaders, we have known almost nothing about the impact of the experience on the peer leaders themselves. The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of peer leaders in first-year seminars.

The study consisted of peer leaders at three universities, in different geographic regions of the United States. Data were collected from questionnaire responses from 83 peer leaders and interviews with 16 peer leaders and 5 program directors from these institutions for which pseudonyms were assigned-Blue University, Yellow University, and Pink University. While the questionnaire responses served as the dominant source data, together with institutional documents at each site about the peer leadership program, and researcher field notes gathered during two-day visits to each site, they formed the basis of the findings.

Five themes emerged from the data. The experiences of peer leaders across sites were characterized by: (1) Positive Interactions; (2) How they helped their First-Year students; (3) A Desire to be liked; (4) Confronting and Overcoming Obstacles, and (5) the Impact on (their) Peer Leader Development.

The findings were then used to consider the relation between the peer leaders' experiences and social interdependence theory. The conclusions that can reasonably be drawn from the study are:

1. Peer leaders derived personal, social and career building benefits from serving as peer leaders.

2. Serving as a peer leader appears to be an overwhelmingly positive experience for those who choose to do so.

3. Social interdependence theory would appear to be a useful model for predicting the kind of experiences that peer leaders have with their students.

The study informs college and university administrators and policymakers with information that can help them in making decisions about initiating and/or maintaining peer leadership programs, and in recruiting peer leaders from the perspective of peer leaders.

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