Students are used to being asked why they selected their university, but 48 students were recently asked why they decided to stay.
Students in a graduate-level qualitative research class during fall term set out to find out what made first generation students persist to their junior and senior year of college after they decided to attend the University of Idaho in the first place.
Tamera Dirks, a Ph.D candidate in Adult Organization and Leadership, was part of the research team. Each of the five members of the team used a different research method to gather data.
“One of the major findings that I had come up with is first generation students need those markers in their life to get to college and stay there,” Dirks said. “Vandal Friday was a specific marker participants kept coming back to.”
Dirks said some students have already decided to attend UI before Vandal Friday, which was recently rebranded UIdaho Bound. For others, the event itself cements the decision.
Dani Erickson, Amanda Haruch, Diane Swensen and George Tomlinson and Dirks are now continuing the research they began last term.
“We want to do research that makes a difference,” said Sydney Freeman, the course”s professor. “We weren”t interested in just doing a research project that had no effect on the campus.”
Freeman said qualitative research, which focuses more on interviews with in-depth answers, provides more insight into the subject”s reasoning and outside influences.
“You”re actually able to get a fuller picture of a particular phenomenon,” Freeman said.
Instead of framing the question with a focus on the negative – in this case, asking about dropping out – they took a different approach. Instead, they focused on why students are persisting to continue on, Freeman said.
The College of Education and Office of Student Affairs sponsored the research to provide incentives to participate.
“Idaho as a whole is still considered a rural area, and sometimes prompting students on to college is a lot harder in rural areas,” Dirks said.
They found students cited personal motivation, family influence, college environment, student academic support and extracurricular involvement as themes necessary for successfully transitioning into college.
Cultural and financial support and access to mental health resources were other factors interviewees prioritized.
Freeman said the students presented their findings to Jean Kim, vice provost for Student Affairs and Corinne Mantle-Bromley, dean of the College of Education, at the end of the semester.
“They were asking for the data right away,” Freeman said.
Dirks said the team put together a paper with their findings so they would be readily available.
She said the team wants the next focus of their research to be on first-generation Native American college students.