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Tucker, Gardiner

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The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological research study was to explore the meanings volleyball student-athlete alumnae (SAA) from a doctoral granting research institution in the Rocky Mountain region (Rocky Mountain Regional University or RMRU) associate with their lived experiences and how those interpretations shape their engagement behaviors as alumnae. Using Stryker’s (1980) interpretation of Symbolic Interactionism as a theoretical framework, I interviewed seven participants and found that the meaning they associated with their experiences varied by their placement in different types of closed positions, those that require permission, invitation, or special status for membership. My findings suggest that there is a difference between individual experiences in what I am calling tightly closed positions (TCPs), those that are closed but also include high levels of interaction between members within the position, and loosely closed positions (LCPs), those that are closed but do not have high levels of interaction between members. In their TCPs as volleyball student-athletes, participants of my study shared that this defined their life experiences because of the rigid structured nature of being a student-athlete so much of their understanding of their role expectations were provided to them from coaches, teammates, or other campus officials. As they transitioned into the LCP of being a SAA, there was less structure and participants determined what the expected role behaviors for these positions were based on their experience and interaction with other SAA. This created a whiplash effect where the participants felt they needed more preparation and structure to make the transition from the TCP to the LCP. This concept of tightly closed and loosely closed positions requires future research to examine if the concept holds true with other samples. Like other research into alumni engagement behaviors (McDearmon, 2013), participant engagement in this study can be visualized using a power-law distribution (Shaindlin, 2010) with one highly engaged participant and the others engaged at lesser levels. I had anticipated that because of their high levels of engagement as undergraduate students the participants in this study would also be highly engaged as alumnae but that was not what I found. Rather, because of their high level of engagement as student-athletes, participants felt a sense of burnout or a need to distance themselves to focus on other aspects of their lives. This study produced three additional key implications: intentional interaction between SAA and current student-athletes could help better shape role behavior understanding for student-athletes as they transition to being SAA, athletic administrators should explore programming to assist student-athletes with their transition from student to alumna, and higher education advancement professionals should explore opportunities to engage with alumni outside of just asking them to contribute philanthropically. The findings of this study point to key interventions higher education professionals can employ to attempt to provide student-athletes and SAA with the context they need to make meaning out of their tightly and loosely closed positions.


197 pages

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