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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Dana Hebreard
Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Educational Leadership, Research, and Technology
Title: Opt Out: Women with Children Leaving Mid-Level Student Affairs Positions
Dr. Andrea Beach, Chair
Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer
Dr. Diane Anderson
Date: Friday, March 5, 2010 10:00 a.m. - Noon
3208 Sangren Hall
This phenomenological study is about the decision-making process of women with young children at the mid-level student affairs position who decide to opt out of their career for a minimum of one year, and for some, return to higher education. The study is based on interviews with 17 mid-level college administrators and mothers of young children, infant to pre-teen, who chose to opt out of their careers rather than continuing to balance family and career. Though the individuals interviewed are each unique in their socioeconomic status, education, and career path, their issues and concerns are similar. They openly revealed the various compromises and tradeoffs they experienced as professionals and parents. They discussed the necessity of determining what one values in student development, whether one has stopped growing at one’s current institution, and why opting out would or would not be worthwhile.
Informed by related research (Bennetts, 2007; Hewlett & Luce, 2005; Johnston, 2001; Levtov, 2001; Marshall, 2006; Nobbe & Manning, 1997; Sagaria & Johnsrud, 1985), interview probes guided the exploration of personal and professional experiences that led these women to their current status. Common themes of the interviews noted that the participants felt that the lack of support and flexibility in the work environment and among their supervisors led to their decision to opt out of their career path for a particular period of time. Some chose to return to their career after some time away while others went on a different journey. Participants in this research study described the role that factors such as self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal goals played in their career decisions. These factors are part of Lent, Brown, and Hackett’s Social Cognitive Career Theory, which served as a contextual frame for the study. This theory posits a combination of personal emotional influences and external contextual influences on career decision-making. Although this study does not lay out a definitive path for women to follow in order to manage both motherhood and a career in student affairs, it does demonstrate a need for further research on the mutual benefits to employee and employer for flexibility in the workplace.