Date Approved


Date Posted


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Dr. Ronald Williamson, Chairperson

Committee Member

Dr. Nelson Maylone

Committee Member

Dr. Theresa Saunders

Committee Member

Dr. Jaclynn Tracy


Analysis of the data revealed the importance of relationships at the heart of each of the interviewee's responses with a family member or neighbor who encouraged and supported at home; a principal who encouraged them to consider a specific high school and then continued to follow them through their high school experience; an advisor who guided them during all four of their high school years; teachers, who not only challenged, supported, and encouraged during classroom hours, but also opened the door of their classrooms before and after school to be in deeper relationship with their students; or a community program that welcomed and mentored students. Relationships were perceived to be key to the students' ability to persist. Rigorous academic programs were important; they encouraged the development of personal knowledge and skills and pushed students beyond their own perceptions of ability. The student voice heard in this study makes clear, however, that it is relationships that have the potential to keep individuals engaged and persisting on the path toward graduation even in the face of great adversity and overwhelming odds.

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