A Study of New Professionals in Student Affairs: Women’s Early Career Experiences in Their Own Words




Heikkila, Kalenne

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My feminist qualitative study examined the lived experience of five young women working in the field of student affairs and services in British Columbia. Using this feminist approach I explored their stories, views of gender, and conceptions of leadership. Central aims of this study were to uncover unexamined perspectives of these young women working in the field and their perceptions of leadership. By lending legitimacy to women’s experiences my study provides insights that have been discounted in the literature, as well as due to women’s age, level of experience, and gender. Ultimately however, these insights could have a positive impact on practices in student affairs and services. I gathered data through semi-structured interviews and a focus group. My research findings demonstrate the importance of mentorship and support, particularly from other women, as well as the broad impact of gender and age on the experience of student affairs professionals. My research also reveals the wide variety of ways young women are engaging with professional development and leadership as part of their work. This lends new insight into the current student affairs landscape as lived by young women, what impacts their experience as staff and leaders, as well as their vision for themselves and for the field in the future. I conclude this thesis with recommendations aimed to improve the experiences of new professionals and their supervisors, and to influence positive change within the systems and institutions in which they operate. Conducting this study with practitioners in British Columbia contributes to the research landscape by providing research from within the Canadian post-secondary context. It also provides research focused explicitly on women working in the field and on the experiences of new professionals from their own perspective, both of which are currently under-explored areas of student affairs and services research.



Student Affairs, Feminist Research, Student Services, Higher Education, New professionals, Post Secondary