Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version

Spring 5-2012


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska For Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Administration, Under the Supervision of Professor Rachelle Winkle-Wagner. Lincoln, Nebraska: May 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Kelly Anne Irby


The purpose of this study was to add to the small body of literature exploring the successes of African American males in college. In this particular study, I sought to explore the strengths that first-generation African American males perceived as important to their success at a primarily White institution in the Midwest. Personal interviews were utilized to learn which self-identified strengths were important to success in college for each participant. The result was a candid portrait of the difficulties African American males face and an in-depth understanding of the strengths they utilized to overcome difficulties and succeed.

This study explored how five self-identified first-generation African American males attending a predominantly White institution used their strengths to fulfill their personal definitions of success in college through the completion of five interviews. The following themes emerged from analysis of resultant data: “Receiving poor strength training,” “Negotiating a primarily White institution with strengths,” “Going to battle: Starving stereotypes,” “Trailblazing versus trail avoidance,” and “Utilizing communal and individualistic orientations.” The results from this qualitative study indicate that first-generation African American males at this institution primarily used their strengths to conquer difficulties that arose out of their home communities and the primarily White university environment. Implications for student affairs practitioners are provided and recommendations for future research are reviewed.

Advisor: Rachelle Winkle-Wagner