Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Ester Shapiro

Second Advisor

Laurel Wainwright

Third Advisor

Melissa Pearrow


This study used a qualitative interview approach and thematic analysis (Braune and Clark, 2006) to interview first generation college student Latinas, exploring their experiences with higher education, their navigation/negotiation of resources for academic success and for wellness of self and family, and barriers they face as they attempt to both safeguard self and family wellness and reach their academic goals. It also directly explored the potential resources participants would find useful and ways in which colleges/universities might support them in these pursuits.

With this method, this study identified 6 major themes in the lives of first generation college student Latinas: 1) Contextual stressors / systemic disadvantage, involving the tendency for participants to be at a disadvantage within higher education than mainstream society, including participant's being the targets of racism/negative stereotypes, complications related to documentation concerns, their need to navigate the college environment without a map, their family's limited understanding of higher education, their need to carry a heavy work load, and their need to attend to family obligations; 2) education as an obligation to family-motivation, involving participant's tendency to think of a college education as the passport to family socioeconomic mobility and wellness, as a way to repay their parents for their sacrifices, and as a way to complete a goal their mothers started but were unable to finish; 3) the chosen one/to be a role model- motivation, involving the tendency for participants to hold a sense of responsibility to live up to high expectations as the first in their families to enter college, to break negative stereotypes about Latinas and higher education, and to serve as positive role models to their family, community, and their own children; 4) Children, present and future, involving the tendency for participants with parental obligations to place these obligations above all else and to identify their children as a principal source of motivation, and the tendency for participants to postpone having children until after they achieve their academic goals; 5) impact of important encounters, involving participants' tendency to identify positive and negative encounters they experienced as important in their development and in the balancing of family and educational goals, to identify the importance of influences of external cultures in their educational trajectory, and to voice a need for mentorship in higher education; and 6) inner strengths and goals, involving the tendency for participants to turn to their faith for spiritual support and turn to their church for social support and as a source of trustworthy help, and identify personal qualities they experienced as sources of strength, including Paciencia (patience), Perseverancia (perseverance), orgullo (Pride), rebeldia (rebelliousness/defiance), and sacrificio (ability to sacrifice). These conclusions highlight the ways that, for the Latinas interviewed, education is thought of in intergenerational terms, where there are legacies of the past and future. Participants expressed an understanding of what they owe their families, and also consider what they will be able to offer their children and how they might contribute to their family's future.


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