Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Cheryl D. Ching

Second Advisor

Katalin Szelényi

Third Advisor

Patricia A. Neilson


In spite of a swiftly growing AAPI undergraduate student population, higher education staff remain predominantly White with AAPIs significantly underrepresented within the field. The underrepresentation of AAPI professional staff is a problem not only because it may represent a lack of a career pipeline for AAPIs entering the workforce, but it also negatively impacts the large population of AAPI students who struggle to access and succeed in higher education. Contrary to prevalent stereotypes and misconceptions, many AAPI undergraduates are first-generation college students, come from low-income backgrounds, and struggle to obtain bachelor’s degrees (Maramba, 2011). Although AAPIs in predominately White fields face myriad racialized barriers, those who have developed a strong sense of professional identity may be better able to persist in spite of obstacles. Professional identity is when an individual perceives themselves as valuable and competent member of their profession (Auxier et al.; 2003; Ewan, 1988; Slay & Smith 2011). Doing so allows an individual to perform better professionally and to develop feelings of well-being and belonging in their workplaces and professions overall (Roberts et al., 2014).

This study uses the theoretical frameworks of Slay and Smith’s (2011) theory of professional identity development for People of Color (POC) and Museus et al.’s (2012) theory of ethnic campus subcultures to examine how and why the experience of working for AANAPISI programs may be impactful for AAPI staff and their professional identities. Initial findings suggest that during their time working for AANAPISI programs, (a) AAPI staff experienced a simultaneous redefinition of their racial and professional identities, and (b) this redefinition took place through the process of cultural integration and validation that staff experienced working for AANAPISI. Like Slay and Smith (2011) suggest, my findings suggest that AAPI staff experience identity redefinition as their self-perceptions as higher education professionals and as AAPIs shift as they engage in AANAPISI work. The fact that these twin processes of redefinition take place simultaneously is no coincidence. Instead, participants’ redefinition of their sense of self as higher education professionals and as AAPIs were mutually reinforcing processes.