First Advisor

Softas-Nall, Basilia

Document Type


Date Created



Martinez, Megan N. From Invisibility to Belonging: Supports and Challenges of First- Generation College Students who Identify as Racial and Ethnic Minorities. Published Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, 2020. The experience of navigating through college is fraught with challenges, and within six years only 20 percent of first-generation college students graduate with their bachelor’s degree (RTI International, 2019b). Additionally, these students experience notable academic difficulties during college when compared to peers, including lower GPA (Chen & Carroll, 2005; D’Amico & Dika, 2013; Lohfink & Paulsen, 2005), decreased academic engagement (Soria & Stebleton, 2012b), and greater likelihood of withdrawing from or repeating coursework in college (Chen & Carroll, 2005). The purpose of this phenomenological study was to (a) understand how first-generation students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities experience support and challenges, and how they overcome challenges, as they navigate diverse social spheres and (b) to add to the body of knowledge about the relational experiences of first-generation students and how these relationships change during the duration of their undergraduate career. Narratives were gathered from 12 first-generation college students who identify as racial and ethnic minorities from a mid-sized institution in the Rocky Mountain region. From these narratives, 14 themes emerged including: Strengths, Isolation, Shared Identity, Cultural Values, Visibility, Awareness of Faculty’s Willingness to Help, Mentorship, Connection with Peers, Knowing Where to Find Help, Understanding What it Takes to Succeed, Honoring Hard Work and Sacrifice, Modeling, Success for Future Generations, Emotional Support and Encouragement, and Experiences with Counseling. Results guide implications for empowering first-generation college students who identify as racial and ethnic minorities for counseling psychologists and mental health professionals working in university counseling centers, faculty and mentors working with this population, and supportive family members. Keywords: first-generation students, racial, ethnic, university, culture, support, challenges, qualitative study, strengths.


227 pages

Local Identifiers


Rights Statement

Copyright is held by the author.