English, Department of


First Advisor

Robert Brooke

Date of this Version



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: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Robert Brooke, Lincoln, Nebraska: November, 2016

Copyright 2016 Bernice M. Olivas


First Generation students face disproportionate challenges in college. Their graduation rate is much lower than continuing generation students even though the majority of First-generation students perform at the same level as their continuing generation peers. Existing research suggests that First-generation students perceive their writing skills as lower than their peers’ skills and current composition research suggests that First-generation students struggle to develop an academic identity which contributes to their drop-out rate (Penrose 437-61). However, there is little research at the classroom level concerning First-generation students and their academic identity. This indicates a gap in composition research. This dissertation seeks to address this gap using participant observation of the Boise State University McNair program.

The Boise State University McNair program is a learning community with a high rate of success with First-generation students. This dissertation argues that Boise State McNair Scholars Program faculty members focus on building academic identity among their First-generation students which contributes to their high success rates. This dissertation utilizes four years of participant observation, two as a McNair Scholar and two as a McNair writing teacher, in order to contextualize the strategies used in the Boise State McNair curriculum for a First-Year writing class.

Advisor: Robert Brooke