Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

On Doctoral Student Development: Exploring Faculty Mentoring in the Shaping of African American Doctoral Student Success

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

On Doctoral Student Development: Exploring Faculty Mentoring in the Shaping of African American Doctoral Student Success

Article excerpt


For many African American doctoral students progress towards degree completion is a journey wrought with obstacles. Previous research about African American degree attainment has deemed low degree completion rates at preceding educational levels and an under-representation of minority faculty as two primary causes for the slow progression of African American doctoral degree completion rates in the United States (; Gasman, Hirschfield, & Vultaggio, 2008; Thompson 2006; Willie, Grady, & Hope, 1991). This is especially the case within elite institutions where there is a lack of minority faculty leadership coupled with historical legacies of exclusion that cultivate alienating educational environments. In these educational environments the stakes for increasing social capital becomes higher with smaller numbers of African Americans being socialized in the nation's most prestigious and well-resourced institutions (Gasman et al., 2008).

Doctoral student development, the transformation whereby graduate students evolve into emerging scholars, is a process where faculty members can have tremendous influence to enhance the likelihood of success (Gasman et al., 2008; Walker, Golde, Jones, Bueschel, & Hutchings, 2008). African Americans who press towards doctoral degree attainment may find it difficult to find the right faculty adviser; one who can mentor their professional development and shape their disciplinary identities during their graduate student socialization experiences (Davidson & Foster-Johnson, 2001; Gasman et al., 2008; Thompson, 2006). Professional identity development at the doctoral level entails the creation of a research agenda and the cultivation of collegial relationships that are important to continued success after degree attainment (Gardner & Barnes, 2007; Lovitts, 2001).

To further explore the impact of faculty advising and mentorship on graduate student socialization previous research has called for further exploration of these functions from a student's cultural perspective (Gasman et al., 2008; Nettles & Millett, 2006). Additionally, this perspective relates to Padilla's Expertise Model (1991) that explores the experiences of successful students of color who attain both theoretical and heuristic knowledge to overcome barriers to success. Padilla's model highlights the value of student experience as an informative resource for learning about student progress as well as the effects of institutional climates and interactions between students and faculty.

In this vein the goal of this paper is to explore the African American doctoral student experience to illustrate how factory mentorship facilitates degree completion. Many studies on the faculty-student relationship have tended to focus on the experiences of students while they were engaged in the doctoral study (Baird, 1990; Gasman, Gerstl-Pepin, Aderson-Thompkins, Rasheed, & Hathaway, 2004; Girves & Wemmerus, 1988; Golde, 1998; Nettles & Millett, 2006; Taylor & Antony, 2000). While these studies have been helpful in exploring how faculty can support doctoral student development, the scope of these findings about student experience is limited to doctoral student success being in the state of progression towards degree completion. Qualitative studies of doctoral students who are engaged in study may not fully address factors that contribute to the marginalization experience for African Americans as these doctoral students are under pressure to be politically sensitive to the organizational dynamics of their programs (Taylor & Antony; Thompson, 2006). The position of this paper is to set degree completion as the central focus of student success. Thus, student success is viewed from a post-degree perspective and emphasizes the faculty-student relationship as a key element of degree attainment.

According to Padilla (1991), students who are successful offer solid examples of academic achievement. …

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