Meaningful work: A study of women faculty members at a community college

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


John A. Centra


Women educators, Meaning-making, Faculty, Work, Community college

Subject Categories

Higher Education and Teaching


The purpose of this study was to examine how women faculty members at a community college constructed their lives and how they understood and made meaning of their work. Areas explored include: the ways in which the women organized their lives at the college, extracted meaning from their work, perceived themselves and their work, developed their professional identities, and established power and authority both within the institution and the classroom.

The study was conducted at one site over a period of 15 months. Nineteen women, holding both full time and adjunct positions, participated in the project.

Qualitative methodology was used for data collection, with extensive interviewing and participant observation as the primary research tools. Using a flexible research design, the emerging data shaped important questions and structured the research as data collection continued. Data was then coded for key issues and recurrent events or activities that later became categories of focus.

Three primary areas are studied in this research: the women's early lives and career paths, the women's lives within the institution, and the women's lives in the classroom. The results of the study indicated that the women organized their working lives into two separate and unique spheres: the life in the institution, and the life in the classroom. In general, the life in the institution was viewed as a hostile or at best, neutral environment in which to work. The women attempted to ameliorate these perceptions of the institution and become more connected to the institution via their teaching in the classroom. It is in the classroom where the women developed a sense of meaning and purpose for their work, and evolved both their teaching identities and reward systems.

Three emerging roles for the community college instructor are presented: the community college instructor as acculturalization agent, socialization agent, and retention facilitator. The impact of these emerging roles on the classroom life is discussed.

Lastly, the data is examined from the perspectives of power, status, and authority in regards to the emergence and development of the classroom life and the institutional life. Study results indicated that the sense of autonomy found in the classroom appeared to be greatly diminished in the broader context of institutional life. As a result, the classroom life may fulfill the autonomy needs of these women faculty, whereas the institutional life provided little in the way of encouraging or enhancing their autonomy status.


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