Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot

Second Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves

Third Advisor

Dr. Diane K. Anderson


Seventh-day Adventist higher education, secular institutions, phenomenology, college


The experiences of Seventh-day Adventist students at secular universities was examined. Seven women and two men attending universities in Michigan and New York were interviewed. The researcher employed a heuristically guided phenomenological method to get rich descriptions of the participants’ experiences in the secular university setting. Open-ended interviews were used to gather data regarding the student experience.

From an analysis of the data six themes arose detailing the experiences of Seventh-day Adventist students in secular environments. The themes were (a) challenges encountered in the secular environment led to a need for self-advocacy in the academic and work environment regarding maintaining faith beliefs, (b) students found themselves serving as a representative of God in academic settings, (c) the Adventist student group and church membership served as a critical source of friendship and support during the college experience, (d) personal relationships and social group membership were viewed as a form of ministry, (e) a sense of divine placement or guidance was a persistence factor, and (f) the secular college experience was an opportunity for continued spiritual growth.

The students in this study experienced their religious identity as most salient in their college experience. Their experiences inspired them to study their faith deeper and connect to the college environment in ways that helped them grow in their faith while successfully matriculating at the institution. They view their presence as part of the mission of their faith.

The students had positive views of their secular campus experiences in spite of matriculating in an environment that was not inclusive and could be perceived as hostile. The study shed light on the fact that secular college environments continue to be less than welcoming to students who do not worship according to mainstream Christian faith beliefs. Secular institutions, in the interest of retention and student development, will need to strengthen policies and training for staff around issues of inclusion for students who do not worship according to mainstream Christian beliefs.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access