Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Educational Administration

Major Professor

E. Grady Bogue

Committee Members

Jeffrey P. Aper, Marianne R. Woodside, Benita J. Howell


The purpose of this narrative study was to obtain and analyze stories of rural, first-generation students from Southern Appalachia in order to understand their collegiate experiences in light of the home culture they brought with them. Based on my university experience working with similar students and a review of relevant literature, I determined there was a need for research studies that: a) seek to understand the meaning, for these students, of the accounts they give of their lives and experiences as college students, b) seek to understand how these students make sense of their lives in the context of their home culture and the university and how their understandings influences their behavior, and c) provide data, which can assist faculty, administrators and staff in understanding these students' experiences. The primary research question that guided this study was: What is the experience of a rural, first-generation student from Southern Appalachia at this university?

The study was a phenomenological study in which I used narrative as both the method of inquiry and the object of interpretation. The participants were eight, first generation university students from rural, Southern Appalachia. Using an in-depth phenomenological interview format, each participant was interviewed at least twice and served as a co-collaborator in the research process.

After analyzing the individual student's stories, I created a portrait of each student based on the patterns and themes and the connections between them. The themes served to explicate the experience of the student in the university culture and their home culture and reflected the students' particular experiences as told in their stories. The analysis then moved from common story elements or themes (analysis of narrative) to the meta-narrative (narrative analysis). The common themes represent the elements used to emplot (configure) a meta-narrative of experience that is shared by these students.

The themes and general findings of the study were: most of the students' decisions and actions were taken with or made with their allegiance to home and family values or relationships foremost in their minds; it was evident that the students came to the university looking for connections and expecting to find relationships with faculty, new friends and the environment; the students in this study learned best when actively engaged in their learning and when they were able to relate the learning to some aspect of their lives; it was evident that the influence of home and family, their need for connecting and relationships, and their hands-on learning style played a significant role in affecting how the students pulled away from certain majors and gravitated towards others; and key to a sense of identity is the ability of the student to tie together the elements of his/her story. The previous four themes contributed to or led to a sense of identity, though not in a linear way.

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