Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Teaching and Learning Sciences, Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Paul Michalec

Second Advisor

P. Bruce Uhrmacher

Third Advisor

Laura Sponsler

Fourth Advisor

Mark Engberg


Educator, Higher education administration, Identity, Identity-as-educator, Professional identity, Student affairs


The work of student affairs professionals has been happening since the inception of western higher education. The profession has shifted a great deal since that time, with an emphasis now on student affairs professionals as ‘educators’ alongside their faculty counterparts. Regardless of change, research has consistently demonstrated the impact student affairs can have on the experiences of students and colleges as a whole. Given the emergence of identity-as-educator, for these professionals to best continue their work, it is imperative to understand how they understand and make sense of this professional identity. This research was a phenomenological study to understand how mid-level student affairs professionals at mid-to-large sized, non-profit, public, four-year universities make sense of their roles. Data was collected from 12 participants who took part in three interviews each. Data analysis adhered to conventional steps for phenomenology, including horizontalization, clusters of meaning, and themes. In total, 951 significant statements emerged from the data that generated four themes: What it means to be an educator, how student affairs professionals’ identities develop, what student affairs professionals accomplish in their work, and aspirations for student affairs professionals. Within these themes, nuances and major topics that were elevated included more than a job, educator function, educator ethos, lifelong professional identity development, support towards academic success, holistic education distinct from academics, lacking connection with the profession, and imposter syndrome as educators. Collectively, the research found that the participants do identify as educators, in line with the leading organizations, but found educator to be a complicated word that has led to many of the participants feeling undervalued as educators, if not outright denied the title altogether. Implications and recommendations are made across three key aspects of the participants’ lives to better foster and cultivate identity-as-educator for student affairs professionals: the theoretical idea of ‘educator,’ the student affairs educator, and the student affairs educator’s environment.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

David McCoy


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

310 pgs


Higher education, Higher education administration, Education