Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot

Second Advisor

Dr. Diane K. Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves


University students, university leadership, student development, university presidents, higher education, leadership theory


Little is known about how college students experience and understand the university presidency. Students are important consumers of the academic experience and by affiliation are constituents of organizational leadership. The social distance between students and university presidents continues to narrow. To address the void in scholarly literature, my study explored how students experience and understand the university presidency.

My investigation utilized phenomenological methodology to form descriptive themes. I interviewed 10 college students who self-identified as being involved with extracurricular activities and having, at minimum, occasional interaction with their president. Participants were selected from two small, public, Midwestern universities where their president had served for five or more consecutive years. The in-depth face-to-face interviews with students provided rich data.

My findings revealed three themes relating to how students experience and understand the university presidency: (a) value experiencing informal presidential encounters; (b) understanding leadership through compassion and vision; and (c) meaningful impact from presidential interactions. Students experiencing interaction acquire an enduring image of presidential leadership. Students understand the presidency as a balance between compassion and vision. Students form impactful memories when their president recognizes their effort and accomplishments. Encouraging interactivity between students and presidents benefits students by further motivating their campus involvement, enhancing their connection to the university, and inspiring their student leadership aspirations.

Recommendations for further research include: (a) investigating interactivity between students and presidents through social media; (b) expanding the target population to include a more diverse student demographic and differing types of organizations; (c) studying how involved students influence the general student population and serve as a key communication conduit for presidents to reach a larger population; and (d) exploring how university presidents experience and understand their students.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access