Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Celest A. Martin


Previous research on first-generation college students has concentrated largely on students enrolled in community colleges or universities. This study examines first generation students at a single, highly selective, four-year, liberal arts college, and uses an academic literacies approach to understand the relationship between first-generation status and written and oral literacies as illustrated in academic papers and classroom performance. Twelve first-generation college students were interviewed extensively about their early literacy experiences, family background, relationship to family and home community, high school preparation, selection of and transition into a highly selective college, and written and oral literacy experiences at that institution. Writing samples were collected throughout the semester from a subset of five students enrolled in writing-intensive courses, and those papers were examined closely and discussed at length with the student writers. Students were also observed in classroom situations. Participants in the study exhibited a range of perceptions about academic preparation, integration into the academic community and comfort with writing and class participation, with several striking similarities, particularly regarding early reading experiences, relationships with family, and attitudes toward the use of personal experience as a foundation for academic work. Suggestion for further research are proposed in order to provide more extensive information that will help to shape educational programs for first-generation students at such institutions.



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