Doctoral Dissertation Defense

June 14, 2021
Submitted By: Karla I. Loya

The Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership presents 

“It’s Hard but it’s not Impossible”: 

Thriving in First-generation Community College Students

Monday, June 14 from 10 a.m.–noon  (CODE:EDD)


A steadily increasing number of first-generation students are attending colleges and universities. In addition to facing many of the same issues as their peers, they must also overcome unique challenges that might prevent them from thriving in college. According to Laurie Schreiner (2010), a thriving college student is someone who is fully engaged intellectually, socially, emotionally in the whole college experience. This mixed methods explanatory sequential study examined the experiences of thriving first-generation community college students and answered the research question, What do first-generation community college students report on what makes them thrive? Quantitative data were collected via the Thriving Quotient survey (N=242), which served to identify thriving students. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews of 10 thriving students. Data analysis revealed that a very high level of academic determination, strong sense of belonging to their community, and an expectation of positive outcomes were shown to be present in these thriving students, despite facing additional obstacles as first-generation students, and attempting to learn virtually during a pandemic. Positive relationships with faculty and a strong familial support system were frequently cited as influences in their success, while lack of guidance and direction at the college level was reported as a challenge, especially surrounding the process of applying for financial aid. Recommendations for practice, decision-making, and future research are presented. 


Ana D. O’Donnell is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Program at the University of Hartford and holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Connecticut.