First Advisor

Hess, Robyn S.

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The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of how students who are refugees describe their social supports, with a focus on their relationships with those who are supportive of their interest in higher education both within and outside of the school system. Few studies have explored the social capital of these students, and how it may influence their decision to attend college. Therefore, narrative inquiry was used to explore the educational journeys of 13 refugee youth planning to attend higher education in the United States. Through semi-structured interviews, demographic surveys, and the creation of social support maps, participants shared about the available supports within their families, schools, and communities. Data analysis was conducted using thematic analysis to find common themes across the interviews. Five themes emerged across these unique narratives. Starting out, participants described the importance of their families’ voices on their decision to attend college. Emotional support was provided from school staff, peers, and members of the community from supporting participants through their acculturation, to providing encouragement that these students could persevere and complete their education. Participants also shared about the importance of instructional supports along their route to college, that gave them knowledge and tools to achieve their goals. Participants described the value of their educational journeys, providing the opportunities to give back to others. Navigating both internal (e.g., motivation, language skills) and external barriers (e.g., finances) were a consideration for participants. In the end, these findings suggest that it is not one type of social capital, but a combination of different types of supports (e.g., family, emotional, instructional) that guided these students in their path to higher education. Future programming and supports designed to assist refugee students in pursuing higher education should incorporate a continuum of supports across their social networks.


231 pages

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