Communication Studies, Department of


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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: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor William J. Seiler. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Tiffany Rose Wang


The purpose of the present study was to explore teacher-student interaction, teacher-student relationship formation and development, and the ways in which teacher- student interaction and relationships facilitated support and ultimately persistence to graduation for first-generation students in the transition to college. In this study I sought to better understand the nature of interaction in the teacher-student relationship of these first-generation students during their transition to college. I took an interpretive communication-centered approach to identify the teacher messages that first-generation students perceived to be relational turning points with their teachers as well as their perceptions of teacher messages and relational turning points. Thirty participants were interviewed for this study.

Participants identified 86 relational turning points that occurred in their relationships with teachers during the college transition. These relational turning points were organized into four relational turning point supra-categories, three persistence relational turning point outcome categories, six relationship relational turning point outcome categories, and four classroom relational turning point outcome categories. Transition theory was the framework for this study. The main focus of transition theory concerns how individuals, and those with whom they are connected, deal with change.

Taken together, the results of this study demonstrate that first-generation students perceived relational turning points as positive when they perceived that their teachers supported them and cared about them as individuals. The perceptions of the students increased their likelihood to persist, improved the quality of their relationships with their teachers, and enhanced their overall classroom experience. When first-generation students perceived relational turning points as negative, some first-generation students perceived that their teachers failed to support them and did not care about them as individuals. The negative perceptions decreased the likelihood to persist, detracted from the quality of their relationships with their teachers, and marred the overall classroom experience. Other first-generation students overcame relational turning points they perceived as negative and sought and found other individuals who supported and cared about them.

Advisor: William J. Seiler

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