Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


McHugh Engstrom, Cathy

Subject Categories

Education | Higher Education | Sports Management


This dissertation explored how former Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women athletes made meaning of their undergraduate experience and how it influenced their post-graduate lives. The study research questions focused on three areas: a) how participants constructed meaning from their athletic experiences and what role those experiences had in shaping their identity; b) how the participants made sense of the various systems they experienced and what bearing various identities had on their meaning making; and c) what concrete knowledge, skills and qualities participants felt they possessed today that they attribute to their intercollegiate athletic experiences.

Three semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 women. The participants included three women who identified as people of color and one as a lesbian. The participants were all at least five years removed from their college athletics experience and had participated in a variety of sports at 11 different institutions of higher education. Two theoretical frameworks were used in data analysis: Chickering and Reisser’s (1993) seven vector theory and Abes, Jones and McEwen’s (2007) Reconceptualized Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (RMMDI).

Data analysis indicated that the formulation of theses women’s athletic identity began before they arrived on their respective campuses, and the athletic context in which they experienced their undergraduate careers served to reinforce and centralize that dimension of their identity. The participants revealed very little by way of new ways of thinking about the system of intercollegiate athletics and how systems interacted to influence their experience.

The findings expand on these theories to include ways in which athletics fits into each model. In the RMMDI model (Abes, Jones and McEwen, 2007), for example, athletics existed as a dimension of participants’ identities, acted as the contextual filter through which they made meaning of their experiences, and ultimately shaped how they identified their core sense of self in their post-graduate lives. Implications for practitioners are suggested, including actively promoting non-athlete dimensions of identity, being intentional about using athletics as educational arenas, and breaking down the total institutional nature (Hatteberg, 2018) of athletic departments.


Open Access