Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Paul LaCava


Qualitative research exploring undergraduate student wellness during a pandemic was scarce prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and is still lacking. Studies investigating student wellness during pandemics often fracture the concept by quantitatively researching specific wellness dimensions (Cao et al., 2020; Galea et al., 2020; Tang et al., 2020) as opposed to exploring the construct from a holistic perspective. Additionally, few studies aim to understand how undergraduate students make meaning of wellness and their lived wellness experiences, specifically during a pandemic. Furthermore, emerging research (Huckins et al., 2020) corroborates the extant literature that posit student health behaviors were declining in recent years, indicating wellness instability existed at the onset of the pandemic (ACHA 2019b & 2020; Twenge, 2017). The purpose of this study was to illuminate the unique wellness experiences of undergraduate students amid a large-scale health crisis, while simultaneously uncovering the essence of their shared experiences as members of the same generation living through the pandemic (van Manen, 2014).

Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used as the theoretical framework and methodology to explore how Generation Z students made meaning of and described their wellness experiences, as well as interpreted their wellness during the pandemic. A survey and two rounds of in depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 undergraduate student members of Generation Z who had at least one year of traditional college experience before the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings of this study revealed how students understood and actualized wellness, evidenced the strength of their values, and highlighted the growth they exhibited when their lifeworld was disrupted. In addition, students demonstrated micro and macro interpretations of their wellness experiences by reflecting on personal experiences and their global perspectives of wellness. Overall, the findings indicated students strove and at times struggled, to balance their wellness during the first year of the pandemic. Students from this study would benefit if colleges and universities cultivated a culture of wellness on campus and in virtual spaces to support students and community members during their wellness journeys. Further recommendations for research, policy, and practice are presented at the conclusion of this dissertation.



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