Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Regina Garza Mitchell

Second Advisor

Dr. Pamela Eddy

Third Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot


Community college, mid-level leadership, change, higher education


This qualitative study investigates the phenomenon of leading major change as a midlevel administrator or faculty member at a Michigan community college. Specifically, this study explores how three leaders experienced their roles in implementing the guided pathways strategic change initiative, how they describe the emotional aspects of leading change, and how they made sense of their experiences. One overarching research question guided this study: How do guided pathways leaders at Michigan community colleges experience their roles in the strategic change process?

The results of multiple, in-depth interviews are presented as three profiles, one per participant, using their own words to tell their stories. Looking across the profiles, two main findings emerged. The first major finding was how change was happening through supports and resistance. Supports were teams, communication, and relationships, and resistance related to maintaining the status quo, fear, and a college’s culture. The second major finding was the role of leadership in change. The participants led differently, but common themes were leading authentically, top-down versus mid-level leadership, mandates from other entities, selling and motivating, managing emotions, and sensemaking.

Three very different stories of mid-level change leadership also emerged, illustrating differences between faculty and administrative leaders, leaders with some authority versus those with none, and top-down versus shared leadership. The stories also show the difference between willing and prepared leaders compared to a less experienced and more reluctant leader. The results provide examples of sensemaking, sensegiving, and emotional intelligence, concepts related to change and change leadership that help frame the study.

Although the participants did not indicate they felt unprepared to lead the change efforts, they did not know what they did not know, and perhaps they could have been more effective. Changes of the magnitude called for with guided pathways redesign, those that impact the core of faculty work at a community college, are difficult. Intentionally preparing the leaders for the work at their specific colleges is important. The participants felt their efforts were successful, with caveats. Change leaders cannot predict all the doubts and challenges they will face, but studying the experiences of these three participants who faced resistance, top-level college leadership changes, a pandemic, and diverse college cultures extends the understanding of implementing change from a mid-level leader perspective.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access