Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 4-19-2013


Starzyk, M. K. (2013). A phenomenological study of mid-career female student affairs administrators' experiences navigating the career labyrinth including obstacles in Catholic higher education. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership & Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Richard E. Hoover. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Michele K. Starzyk


While the role of women in the Catholic Church has been a topic of much discussion, there has also been a call for the Church to partner with the laity. However, women who choose to work in Catholic co-educational, male sponsored higher education institutions may find a gendered organizational culture to embrace. Little research has been done in regards to the experience women have navigating the career labyrinth at mid-career while employed at Catholic institutions.

This study attempted to answer the grand tour question of what meaning do mid-career female student affairs professionals make of navigating the career labyrinth, including obstacles, in male order sponsored co-educational Catholic institutions of higher education? More specifically,

  • What are some of the obstacles they have had to face?
  • Who or what created these obstacles?
  • How does the Catholic Church sponsorship influence the situation?
  • How do women navigate career obstacles?
  • Why do women persist in lieu of these obstacles?

These questions were addressed through a phenomenological design to allow for participants’ voices to emerge through 15 interviews. Themes of motivation to work at the institution, personal obstacles, organizational challenges, coping and moving forward were shared. Career obstacles were experienced by mid-career women in Catholic, male religious order sponsored institutions both as personally imposed and organizationally constructed. Women struggled with changing personal goals, perspectives and life factors. Dealing with organizational constraints, women have developed a myriad of coping techniques to thrive in mission rich institutions. Relying on support systems, allies, mentors, professional/personal development and their faith, women navigated obstacles with positivity and hope, as many individuals enjoyed their work in Catholic institutions. The researcher offered recommendations for practice based on the participants’ shared advice, such as providing orientation programs that name potential obstacles and strategies to overcome them for individuals new to the campus culture. Additional recommendations included institutional efforts that can be undertaken such as university committee work.

Advisor: Richard E. Hoover