Educational Administration, Department of


First Advisor

Deryl K. Hatch-Tocaimaza

Date of this Version



Fullerton, A. B. (2020) Counternarratives of success: A narrative inquiry into the life experiences of prior-enlisted reserve officers navigating higher education (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database.


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 Deryl K. Hatch-Tocaimaza. Lincoln, Nebraska: March, 2020

Copyright 2020 Adam B. Fullerton


The current extant literature on student veterans describes the student veteran population in monolithic terms through a deficit perspective. With reserve servicemembers making up 33% of the veteran population (VA, 2018), reservists move beyond tokenism (Kanter, 1978;1987) and need to be explored separately. This separation enhances the understanding of their experiences in working towards educational attainment and the differences from the traditional student veteran identity. To engage in the study of this subpopulation, a narrative inquiry into the lived experience of three Marine officers who obtained their degrees while serving as enlisted reservists was conducted.

This study used Veteran Critical Theory (VCT) (Phillips & Lincoln, 2017) as a framework to engage with literature and meaning making of the experiences of the participants, thereby developing a counternarrative to the deficit perspective, focusing on pathways to success. While generalizable themes cannot be created based on the exploration of the lived experiences of three participants, themes within the individual’s stories can be developed. The use of these themes allows for commentary on the narratives through conceptual inferences (Riessman, 2008). By examining the experiences of the participants this way, seven themes of success were found to be expressed in the narratives. These were: communication, planning ahead, exploration of adult learning pathways, unaided navigation of administrative minutia, understanding one’s limitations, developing a support network, and mentorship. Through understanding components to the success of these participants, there are implications for the student veteran reservist, the researcher, the institution, and the policymaker.

Advisor: Deryl K. Hatch-Tocaimaza