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.




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.


April 26, 2010

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.

September 29, 2009

Student Teams

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration,General — Tags: — Cyndy @ 5:11 pm

Student teams … an effective teaching method or not. Is the educational experience enhanced with team projects, or does it simply add to the frustration and create a negative experience for many. Do enough students benefit from student teams to warrant the use of teams? Is it necessary to have student teams so that students will be better prepared for the real world work environment? Can student teams really reflect the real world work environment?

So many questions to ponder. More insights to these questions after I have spent some time contemplating.

If anyone out there wants to share their personal experiences working in student teams, I would love to hear it.

June 23, 2009

Learning styles

Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration,What I learned today! — Cyndy @ 2:56 pm

It is all too easy to simply assume how a student learns best or how they prefer to learn. As a teacher, we remember how we learned and model ourselves after our favorite teachers. How many students are lost, because their learning style is not understood?

Much research has been done on the topic of learning styles. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, Kolb’s experiential learning theory are just two of the more commonly applied theories among numerous theories, constructs and variations of theories. Some of these theories use simple, easy to understand language that can be interpreted and applied in a classroom. Other theories use odd terminology to define  constructs that classify learners such as assimilators or divergers. In a college such as the one I teach at, most of the instructors are educated in their specialty. They have advanced degrees in design, art, business, science or whatever. Very few have formal education in the field of education; therefore, the terminology must be commonly understood in order to be meaningful.  Just one more reason this dissertation topic is appropriate.

June 6, 2009

Doctoral Residency

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

It is the end of day 3 of the Doctoral Residency. I am no closer to a dissertation topic; however, I now understand the importance of having a dissertation topic early in the program. I know that I will not pursue the study of learning styles among design management students. That topic, while original, would be problematic in so many ways. I think my goal will be to read the abstract and conclusions of 5 recent dissertations before the end of the June. The topics of dissertations will include the following: learning styles, first-generation students, online learning, technology in education, and one other random sample.

May 21, 2009


Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration — Cyndy @ 2:07 pm

I interviewed Susan yesterday to gain insights into her dissertation journey. She noted that her dissertation topic involved a potential career purpose. Knowing that she would finish her doctoral degree in a career field that sometimes values youth, she wanted to make sure she had a specialty where she would not be considered “too old.”  She studied the older returning graduate student. 

With these two things in mind, age and long-term career opportunities, I think it might be wise to consider a dissertation topic that focuses on learning in the online environment. I have always been interested in that topic. Since it is a realatively new environment there is not likely to be a lot of research already done on the topic, and an individual teaching in an online environment can be any age.

May 20, 2009


Filed under: Dissertation Topic Exploration — Cyndy @ 6:18 am

Considered another possible dissertation topic: Using student teams to enhance the learning experience. Of course this is still a broad subject area that would need to be narrowed. From my experiences using student teams, both good and bad, I think the subject could add value to the way teachers use team environments. My instructor reminded me that whatever I choose it will have to hold my interest for a few years. I am wondering if anything will hold my attention for that long?

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