Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Renee V. Galliher


The unique experience of first generation college students from frontier communities as they transition to college has not yet been explored in the literature. The current study was designed to explore those experiences and the ways the frontier context and first generation status shape identity development once these youth have left their families and home communities and made the transition to college. To gain a rich understanding of the experiences of first generation college students from frontier communities, this study employed a phenomenological qualitative design and the findings were interpreted through a social constructionist lens. Eleven emerging adults were recruited from Utah State University for the current study. In-depth interviews were conducted with all study participants. In addition, each participant brought an item of significance to the interview and responded to a member checking email.

Results of the study indicated that the emerging adults in the sample faced challenges when making the transition to college, but that these challenges were also accompanied by positive experiences. Four themes emerged as relevant to the participants’ identity formation in the college context: hard work, religion, appreciation for living simply, and importance of being a role model. For the current sample, their status as first generation students and the frontier context in which they were raised shaped their identities in unique ways. This interplay is discussed along with directions for future research.




This work made publicly available electronically on August 9, 2011.