Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version

Spring 5-2014

Document Type



Holland, A. A. (2014). Exploring the multiple dimensions of intelligence identity in high-achieving students. (Master's thesis). University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Administration, Under the Supervision of Professor Stephanie Bondi. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Amy Holland


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the important elements reported by second-year undergraduates at Midwestern University (MU) as they renegotiated their intelligence identity of being the smart one. The five participants were members of the 2012-2013 first-year cohort of Jumpstart Business Community (JBC). Per inclusion in JBC, the students identified as high-achieving students and/or were classified as accelerated learners in high school. The reconceptualized model of multiple dimensions of identity from Abes, Jones, and McEwen (2007) informed this study in the examination of renegotiation of the intelligence identity.

The main research question of this study was what are the important elements reported by second-year undergraduates formerly labeled as the smart one in high school in managing their multiple identities once transitioned into higher education at a research intensive institution’s business college? This was divided into four sub-questions: (a) How do participants report the salience of their intelligence level within their self-image in higher education versus earlier in their lives? (b) What roles do participants report their social partners (i.e., family, friends, and classmates) play in their self-perception of high intelligence? (c) What roles do participants report their groups of affiliation (e.g., academically related activities, non-academic activities, learning communities, etc.) play in the saliency of the label of intelligence? (d) How does the process of talking about the self-label of high intelligence affect participants’ identity?

The findings of this study inform higher education professionals practice around incorporation of students’ definition of identity and success in college. This research study attempted to add to a relatively unexplored body of literature around the effect of the transition to college on the intelligence identity of high-achieving students. This exploratory study provides recommendations for practice as well as recommendations for future research. Through examination of how to better support this population of students, educators may be able to challenge these students to meet their high potential.

Adviser: Stephanie Bondi