Date of Award

Fall 12-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bennett A. Rafoth, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Resa Crane Bizzaro, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gloria Park, Ph.D.


Forming a new identity as a writer in a higher education context is often a difficult process and one that can be particularly difficult for returning students who have been away from school for many years or even decades. This qualitative case study of the perceptions of five Graduate and Professional Studies students examines the ways that adult, nontraditional students face the task of becoming writers and forming a writing identity in a small private liberal arts university context.

This study focused on the experiences of five adult, nontraditional learners as they worked with writing center tutors. Before they started their tutoring sessions, each participant completed a short literacy narrative. When they had completed their tutoring sessions, they each took part in a final interview. The documents and transcripts that were generated in this study indicated the study participants had overwhelmingly positive feelings about their work with their tutors, and most were actively involved in the tutoring process; however, they did not articulate any progress in forming a writing identity for themselves as academic writers.

This study identified six characteristics common to the five participants: adult, nontraditional students are interested in identifying their own problems; adult, nontraditional students exhibit a lack of self-confidence; adult, nontraditional students talk through their problems with a tutor; adult, nontraditional students seek affirmation from their tutors; adult nontraditional students demonstrate a need to explain their choices; and adult, nontraditional students evaluate their tutoring sessions. Furthermore, the findings of this study indicate that further research is necessary to understand identity formation as it relates to adult, nontraditional learners in colleges and universities as they work with writing center tutors. This research has demonstrated a need for writing center and composition researchers to study in more depth the relationship between adult, nontraditional learners, writing centers, and identity formation.