Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Brent S. Mallinckrodt

Committee Members

Joe Miles, Dorian L. McCoy, Melissa S. Shivers


This dissertation study focused on a mixed-methods exploration of Native American students’ perceptions of risks and protective factors as they transitioned to college at a predominately White institution (PWI), and navigated through their first year. Due to low numbers of Native Americans at PWIs, individuals have described feeling invisible, which negatively impacts their ethnic identity development, sense of belonging, wellbeing, and retention in college. Factors involving respect, positive relationships, cultural affirmation, and resiliency are associated with success and retention for Native American students.

A mixed-methods model, guided by grounded theory and principles of social justice advocacy provided a reflection on Native American first time freshmen’s perceived concerns related to transition as well as their coping efforts. Selection criteria included: (a) 18 years or older, (b) primary identification as Native American, and (c) enrollment in first semester of college. Eight interviews were conducted during Fall 2012 (September – October). Additional interviews were conducted during Fall 2013 (September - October) for a total of 10 original interviews and 2 follow-up interviews. Quantitative measures included the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale, the Native American Acculturation Scale, and the Bicultural Self-Efficacy Scale.

Results suggested that all participants experienced anxiety during the first month and a half of their first year. No significant relationships between transition anxiety and measures of attachment, acculturation, or bicultural self-efficacy were found. Participants initially utilized established relationships with family and close others, primarily off-campus, to cope with concerns related to transition. As they became more familiar with campus culture through positive interactions with faculty, staff, teaching assistants, resident advisors, and classmates, participants described becoming less anxious. The reduction in anxiety occurred within their first month and a half on campus. Participants began to seek out academic and student services resources, and to form new connections with classmates, and other peers on campus. These early positive interactions lead to a sense of belonging. Through reflection on these early experiences, participants became more self-sufficient, and resilient. They identified new coping strategies for future concerns. This process also increased interest in further exploring Native American culture for some participants.

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