Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Role of Heuristic Knowledge in Vietnamese American Students' Success at a Midwestern Community College

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Role of Heuristic Knowledge in Vietnamese American Students' Success at a Midwestern Community College

Article excerpt

This qualitative research study investigated the development of heuristic knowledge and its role in the academic and social journeys of five Vietnamese American students enrolled at a community college located in the American Midwest. The participants were interviewed in depth to understand their "lived experiences" while attending the community college. Data were collected, analysed, and interpreted using a narrative inquiry approach. The interpretation led to a composite image of the students' experiences expressed in the form of a virtual photo album. Research findings provided guidance for future research and advice for community college practitioners.

Individuals, institutions, and the country are becoming more and more attuned to the immigration of people from foreign countries into the United States. The foci of attention concerning immigration are often the east and west coasts of the nation, although many regions of the United States are changing demographic ally. Nationally, the minority student population enrolled at postsecondary institutions increased from 1990 to 2001; while the population of White students remained relatively stable (U.S. Dept. of Education Report, 2004). From 1990 to 2001, the number of Asian American students (including Vietnamese American students) increased by 78% in all postsecondary institutions and by 93% in public 2-year colleges (U.S. Dept. of Education Report, 2004). The authors have observed these changes first hand. One of these changes has been an increase in the Vietnamese American student population.

This study focused on how Vietnamese American students at Midwestern Community College (pseudonym) acquired and used heuristic knowledge to navigate administrative and student learning processes. Heuristic knowledge is knowledge gained by individuals through experience and not through textbooks (Padilla, 1991). Learners acquire heuristic knowledge more rapidly with the assistance of a mentor, advisor, friend, counselor, or other individual who has experience with the local environment. This knowledge facilitates social and academic integration and allows students to overcome barriers impeding their learning in the classroom.

The participants in the study shared their experiences at MWCC with our primary researcher and interviewer, Cynthia Bottrell. A narrative approach allowed this researcher to listen to the stories of the participants, deconstruct them, and then reconstruct them to develop research findings (Clinchy, 2003; Pinnegar & Daynes, 2007). All authors then assisted in developing an interpretive framework that provided the means to express the details and complexities of how these students acquired, used, and relied on heuristic knowledge as they progressed through MWCC. The synthesis of the varied authorial perspectives provided a framework that allowed for the expression of the participants' stories and experiences while also preserving their identity and integrity.

Literature Review

The literature review for this research focused on two topics. These were: (a) challenges facing Asian American college students and (b) heuristic knowledge.

Challenges Facing Asian American Students

Cornerstone works in the literature concerning the challenges encountered by Asian American students emphasized three themes (Kiang, 1992; Rhoads, Lee, & Yamada, 2002; Teranishi, 2002). These were the Myth of the Model Minority, the unique needs of subgroup populations, and the racial challenges faced by Asian American students.

The research literature (Kiang, 1992; Rhoads et al., 2002; Teranishi, 2002) indicated that the image created by the Myth was not consistent with the majority of Asian Americans, especially for the subgroups who are the most recent immigrants. This would include Vietnamese Americans, Cambodians, and Hmong. Nevertheless, Suzuki (1993) observed that the Myth of the Model Minority was accepted at most higher education institutions and Asian American students in these subgroups suffered from the stereotype. …

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