Link to the University of Pittsburgh Homepage
Link to the University Library System Homepage Link to the Contact Us Form

Compartmentalized cultures, integrated transitions: Exploring first-year student transition through institutional culture at a middle Atlantic university

Schuster, Maximilian (2017) Compartmentalized cultures, integrated transitions: Exploring first-year student transition through institutional culture at a middle Atlantic university. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

Download (1MB) | Preview


This study explores how first-year students experience, perceive, and make sense of institutional culture in higher education during the transition from high school to college. Examining institutional culture during the first year remains relevant because nearly 25% of all students who depart higher education do so within their first year (Nalbone et al., 2015). When disaggregated, there are problematic differences among these departures based on students’ gender, race, and first-generation status (Pell, 2015). Institutional culture, therefore, serves as a timely tool to account for variation in first-year students’ transitional experiences.

This study employs a cultural constructivist methodology that is informed by a constructivist theoretical perspective. This methodology accounts for the multiple realities of various stakeholders. Sixty-two students—50 in their first year and 12 in their second year—at a middle Atlantic university comprised a stratified purposeful sample for this study. Data was collected through one-on-one semi-structured interviews and analyzed following interpretative thematic analysis.

Several key findings of this study expose the complexity of co-construction that is integral to interpreting individual experiences within the institutional culture that I studied. First, learning institutional culture transpires for students as an ongoing, multifaceted process throughout the first year. Immersion, trial and error, and observation serve as tactics students rely upon to learn how to perform cultural norms. Second, friendships that develop during the first year appear as interconnected constellations that remain homogenous based on gender and political dispositions. These friendships aid students in interpreting the institutional culture. Third, institutional rituals produce in students feelings of belonging through shared emotions. Ceremonies that celebrate individual identities suggest through symbolic actions a strong sense of mattering that deepens institutional connection. Finally, minoritized students encounter differential interactions with the institutional culture. Friendships, often developed through cultural student organizations, facilitate transition and deflect discrimination experienced by minoritized students. Students with intersecting minoritized identities may rely on hopeful self- reliance to overcome challenges in the face of transitional isolation. Understanding these processes provides the opportunity for researchers and practitioners to unravel the complexities of campus cultures that impinge upon student success. Implications are drawn for theory and future research.


Social Networking:
Share |


Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Schuster, Maximilianmts31@pitt.edumts31
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGunzenhauser, Michaelmgunzen@pitt.edumgunzen
Committee MemberArac, Jonathanjarac@pitt.edujarac
Committee MemberGarcia, Ginaggarcia@pitt.eduggarcia
Committee MemberWeidman, Johnweidman@pitt.eduweidman
Date: 24 April 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 April 2017
Approval Date: 24 April 2017
Submission Date: 19 April 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 208
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Administrative and Policy Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: college transition, organizational culture, institutional culture, first-year students, first-year experience, college friendships
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2017 18:12
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2017 05:15


Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item