Educational Administration, Department of


First Advisor

Elizabeth Niehaus

Date of this Version



Nelson, M. J. (2020). The role of undergraduate student affairs coursework in aspiring student affairs professionals’ career development (Publication No. 28154850). [Doctoral dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Elizabeth Niehaus, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 20, 2020.

Copyright (c) 2020 Matthew J. Nelson


This qualitative, single case study explored the influence of an undergraduate introductory student affairs course (SA 101) on the career development of aspiring student affairs professionals. Using Lent et al.’s (1994) social cognitive career theory, the study was guided by the following questions: (1) How did SA 101 contribute to the career development of students interested in a career in student affairs? (2) In what ways did this course assist students in the development of self-efficacy in relation to their interest in pursuing a career in student affairs? (3) To what degree did students in SA 101 describe positive outcome expectations and personal goals aligning with a career in students affairs? (4) Following SA 101, why did (or didn’t) students enrolled in SA 101 pursue a master’s degree in student affairs and/or a career in student affairs? Participants included the two instructors for the course, as well as six undergraduate students enrolled in the course. The case site itself was at a mid-size, public institution in the Midwest. Data collection involved document analysis, student and instructor interviews, and classroom observations throughout the duration of the course. The findings of this study suggest undergraduate coursework in student affairs influenced student career development through growth in self-efficacy and positive outcome expectations.

This study demonstrated that career interests form when people “view themselves to be efficacious and in which they anticipate positive outcomes” (Lent et al., 1994, p. 89). These items, in turn, allowed for informed career interest exploration and decision making. This study offers implications for research and practice based on these findings.

Advisor: Elizabeth Niehaus