This study investigated the leadership experiences of first-generation Latina college alumnae in order to gain insight into the intersection of leadership, gender, and social capital. Using a qualitative approach, it examined the ways in which their leadership positions impacted their collegiate experience and their later lives. This descriptive study adds to the knowledge base given the lack of research on the Latina college experiences, students of color and college leadership, and on the long-term impact of holding a collegiate leadership position In addition, its results inform higher education professionals who seek to offer leadership opportunities that will provide this population with the skills and experiences to succeed in college and later life.
No relationship was found between their leadership roles on campus and being a resident or commuter or working while in college. An overwhelming majority, 11 of the 12, worked either on- and/or off-campus jobs while in school. What is interesting is that they became involved on campus and took on leadership roles despite having to balance both work and school.
A majority of the participants did not consider themselves leaders upon entering college. Their decision to take on leadership roles varied, but most often was attributed to their desire to give back in some way and to take advantage of all that the opportunity to attend college offered them. While in college, holding a leadership position(s) was found to have a positive effect on participants' academics, social life, and professional development. A surprising finding was that their first-generation status had little to no effect on their family relationships. The formation of networks among peers, community members, and faculty and staff was a significant result of holding a leadership position in college. Through their experiences alumnae were able to make friends, establish contacts outside of the College, and get to know faculty and staff on a more personal level. These networks not only played a large role in their college experience but also continued to be sources of support after they graduated.
In examining the impact of holding a college leadership position after college, four areas were found to have been affected by that experience. The self-perception of alumnae changed greatly from the time they entered college. While a majority did not see themselves as leaders upon coming to MSMC, all but two stated without hesitation that they considered themselves leaders in their current personal and/or professional lives. The area in which college leadership had the most impact after graduation was in the skills, experience, and knowledge that was gained and which alumnae have been able to apply to their current lives. Two participants in the study were even able to attribute getting their first jobs to their leadership experience at the College, which put them in contact with organizations that hired them immediately following graduation. Although alumnae stated that their leadership roles in college had a lasting, positive effect on their lives after college, only five of the twelve stated that they are involved in leadership activities in their current lives.
This study supported previous findings that students of color may view leadership differently from their White peers. However, it also brings to light how new definitions and constructs of leadership must go deeper to include students of color. Such definitions should focus less on the individual leader and more on team and group leadership. Specific attention should be paid to constructs that promote the uniqueness of women's leadership and the role of leaders in bringing people together to accomplish group goals. Furthermore, this study addresses the need to build upon previous research by extending an examination of leadership beyond single identity factors such as race and looking at how it intersects with other factors such as first-generation status and gender. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)