Educational Journey

June 24, 2013

Visual art students + First-generation students

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration — Cyndy @ 6:49 am

Research is underway!

First-generation students are at high risk for not completing college. The reasons that first-generation students drop out are plentiful. First-generation students face many barriers to academic success, including academic preparation, employment/economic status, social integration, and in some cases a lack of family support. A first-generation student that chooses a visual art degree may face even more challenges including less artistic preparation, a lack of exposure to art and the social stigma of pursuing an art degree since these have historically been seen as having too low of an earning potential (Neher, 2010).


An additional challenge for this population is that art studies include a unique environment of public peer criticism of their assignments. Unlike math, science or many areas of study where students submit assignments that are only seen by the instructor, an art student displays their work for all of their peers to see and critique. The academic challenges of first-generation students coupled with the additional artistic challenges suggest that successful completion of an art degree is highly unlikely for this population. And yet, many first-generation students do succeed in visual art studies. A Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (2012) study revealed that 32% of graduates of art and design degrees were first-generation students.


Because of the unique barriers to persistence for first-generation students and the added challenges of being an art student, support is needed to help these students persist to graduation. Abundant research is available on the topic of first-generation students; however, little is known about the nontraditional, first-generation student that studies visual arts. Through this qualitative study I hope to help art education leaders better understand the challenges of nontraditional first-generation students studying visual arts so that supportive policies and programs can be created to assist this population in persisting to graduation.


If you were a first-generation student that studied a visual art, were over 25 years old at graduation, and you want to participate in this research please fill out the form at You will be contacted with further information about participation in the study.

May 28, 2012

The final stretch: An exploration of first-generation students that choose to study art

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration — Cyndy @ 4:05 pm

Finally, I am in the process of writing my prospectus and will soon be forming a dissertation committee. My topic has fully evolved. I’ve explored it from several angles, and I am confident of the path I am taking. My topic is rooted in a passion for educational access to everyone, no matter their socioeconomic background, ethnic background, or disability.

More and more students are going to college than ever before, yet disparities in completion to graduation are dramatic. Low income and first-generation students are less likely to enroll in selective schools, less likely to enroll in a four-year+ program, and less likely to complete a degree. In fact, first-generation students are 8.5 times more likely to drop out of college than a student with a parent that has a degree (Ishitani, 2006). Additionally, disparities exist in exposure to the arts by education level and socioeconomic status (DiMaggio, P. & Mukhtar, T., 2004). It is this disparity of differences in cultural capital required to be successful as a college student and gain exposure to the arts, that intrigues me.

Why would a first-generation student choose an art degree? How does that student overcome the many limitations that exist in order to succeed with an art degree? These are the questions at the root of my study. Because little research has been done on this specific demographic, related to this topic, I have chosen to use a phenomenological qualitative approach to answer the following:

Given that a first-generation student is less likely to finish a college degree, and have limited exposure to art prior to college, this study seeks to examine the experiences of first-generation students that choose to study art as their major focus.

The research questions:

  1. What motivates a first-generations student to choose an art major and persist to completion?
  2. What are the challenges experienced by first-generation students as they pursue a degree in art and how do they overcome those challenges?
  3. What are the social transformations that occur during the process of choosing an art degree, pursuing the degree and completing the degree?


DiMaggio, P., & Mukhtar, T. (2004). Arts participation as cultural capital in the United States, 1982-2002: Signs of decline? Poetics 32(2), 169-194.

Ishitani, T. T. (2006). Studying attrition and degree completion behavior among first-generation college students in the United States. Journal of Higher Education, 77(5), 861-885.




January 27, 2012

The Journey

Filed under: General — Cyndy @ 3:37 pm

It is fascinating to reread these earlier posts about my dissortation topic exploration. Currently, I am only two classes and one comprehensive exam away from beginning my dissertation. And, fF\inally, I have a dissertation topic: drumroll please ….

I plan to study first-generation students, how they make their career choices and how that effects their persistence.

I am completely fascinated with the subject of first-generation students. I love reading everything published about this group. In particular, I have enjoyed discovering the work of Dr. Peter Collier from Portland State University. I recently had a conversation with him about my studies, and he suggested that I concentrate my efforts on art students. I had not intended to do this; however, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. This would fill a gap in the literature and has the potential to uncover new insights into the lives of first-generation students.

I am excited to explore this new direction for my topic. I have some work to do, rethinking my research question and framing the entire study, but I’m up for the task.


August 1, 2011

Texting in class

Filed under: General,Personal challenges — Cyndy @ 7:24 pm

As a teacher and a student, I can certainly see both sides of this dilemma. As a student it is difficult to pay attention for long periods of time when a professor drones on about something. In these situations, I begin to look for ways to distract my mind. A handy cell phone is a quick and easy fix for my need to check out.

On the other hand, as a professor there is constant struggle to keep student’s attention.  In this age of massive information, attention spans are weakening. Students are used to taking small pieces of information from various sources, but not necessarily used to staying on topic and discovering something in depth. It may be difficult to pay attention for long periods of time, but it is a skill that can be developed and is beneficial to the student.

 In order to better facilitate the learning of this skill among my students, I plan to incorporate some “spot quizzes” into my lectures. Breaking up my lectures with time for the students to reflect on he material and re-frame it into their own words may help them focus. It will also hold them accountable for paying attention and maybe they will put down the cell phones without my constant nagging.



July 24, 2011

Closer, yet no closer to a dissertation topic

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration — Cyndy @ 11:31 pm

As I complete a quantitative research course, I am even more convinced  that I will do a qualitative study. I am impressed with the new knowledge of statisticial analysis that I have acquired. I also must admit that initially I was  intrigued by the solid and predictive nature of the information that can come from  quantitative analysis; however, now I’m not sure that I am prepared for the dissappointing results that can follow. When searching for statistical significance, the proof is either there or it isn’t. I recently ran a statistical analysis on grades compared to study habits of students in my BA121 courses over the past year. The results were disappointingly inconclusive for most categories. I could only conclude with any statistical significance my hypothesis regarding students who spend more time submitting assignments will get a better overall grade than students who spend less time submitting assignments. Duh!

In conclusion, when I think about research topics I am simply more intriqued by searching for clues than searching for answers. Without good clues we cannot find the right answers. There is strength in combination studies that use both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and there is value in a good qualitative study that thouroughly explores a subject.


August 5, 2010

Aha moment – online learning

Filed under: General,What I learned today! — Cyndy @ 5:03 pm

Through my own experience with online education, I have come to have a greater understanding of the needs of myself as a learner. Although I may never have admitted it before, social interaction is a key element of the learning experience. As a natural introvert, I tend avoid much social interaction and prefer to do most of my learning by myself. At least, I thought I did. As MacKerarcher (2004) explains in her interpretation of Kolb’s learning theory, the learning cycle consist of four phases, which each individual uses with tendencies toward efficiencies or inefficiencies of those phases. The active experimentation phase includes sharing new ideas with others and asking questions to clarify meanings. I am most inefficient in this area. Additionally, this is the area that online programs have difficulty facilitating.

I have taken online instruction from two universities now. Both have included some attempt to incorporate social interaction into the program. One incorporated a large component of team-based assignments while the other incorporated field experience assignments. Both models have pros and cons. Overall, the most important element lacking in both programs was an understanding of the importance of this element of learning and assistance to the student in facilitating the experience and overcoming the challenges.


MacKeracher, D. (2004).  Making sense of adult education. (pp. 71-91). University of Toronto Press: Toronto Canada.

July 24, 2010

Learning about learning

Filed under: General,What I learned today! — Cyndy @ 4:20 pm

Learning about learning is so insightful. I don’t know why we don’t spend more time teaching students to be more efficient learners, and teachers to be more aware of various learning strategies that students use. I am digging into Kolb’s model of learning styles dealing with abstract vs. concrete dimensions of learning and active vs. reflective dimensions of learning. My own learning and teaching styles suddenly makes sense. I can be a better learner and a better teacher now.

April 26, 2010

Online education

Filed under: General,What I learned today! — Cyndy @ 3:38 pm

With positive experiences in online education, I have not carefully paid attention to its weaknesses until recently. As I move further into my pursuit of a doctoral degree, I wish to have more satisying conversations about class topics than can be accomplished in an asynchronous environment. Each student is required to post two “substantial” replies to other student’s response to discussion questions. A typical response generally follows this pattern: I agree with you. You stated, ” … ” That is so important. If anyone dares to pose a question or disagree, a response is unlikely as the class has moved on to the next question and the next week’s requirement.

Additionally, in an online environment student’s all see each other’s work. While this could be a motivator for some students, I generally see it as a reminder that I work way too hard. I certainly do not want to sound arrogant; however, some of my class mates would not pass my undergraduate classes if they were to submit similar work. I do not know what grades these students get in their doctoral classes, but they continue to submit poor work so I assume they are passing. This leads me to wonder if this degree really means anything?

Online education is convenient. It brings education to those who might not otherwise get an education, but it has some serious weaknesses that need attention.

One Step Closer

Another course is over, and I am one step closer. At this point, I am unofficially pursuing a dissertation study in the policies and procedures that suppport academic honesty. From what I have learned so far, academic dishonesty is prevelant at all levels of education and colleges deal with it in dramatically different yet equally ineffective ways. would like to better understand the problem so that colleges can implement better systems. In light of the growing online academic trend, this is an important topic.

March 21, 2010

Asynchronous communication

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration,Personal challenges — Cyndy @ 4:00 pm

Asynchronous communication in an online environment has valuable potential as a conversational tool especially for students that might otherwise be too shy to speak up in a traditional classroom. However, the challenges are many. As I experience the online environment in my own class, I am frustrated by the lack of depth to the topics. Each discussion question requires students to write a post followed by response to two other student posts. Classmates often post information that is irrelevant, blatantly off topic or simply subject to further inquiry.  Inquiries are not addressed once students have met the two response requirement. Conversations are therefore prematurely halted. It is especially disheartening when an instructor ends a conversation with a “good boy, Johnny.”

There must be a solution to this problem. Distance learning is here to stay, but it must provide an equally stimulating educational experience. I feel a dissertation topic lies somewhere amidst this frustration.

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