Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

David I. Hanauer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Sharon K. Deckert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dana Driscoll, Ph.D.


To suggest how U.S. colleges and departmental programs can further engage and retain undergraduates and how writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) programs can support student engagement and retention, this study explored how chemistry and English majors at one northeastern U.S. state public university understood and performed identities in relation to their life, departmental, and disciplinary writing experiences. Data gathered to answer the study’s research questions came from co-written academic life narratives, participant-authored autobiographical writing, and disciplinary-writing interviews. Participants were undergraduates in chemistry (n = 7) and English (n = 10). Data was categorized to explore how participants understood their experiences, and it was analyzed for disciplinary identity performance.

Results indicate that chemistry and English majors understood becoming and remaining in their majors in terms of (a) mental orientations that predisposed them to be interested in and have aptitude for their majors; (b) influential people, such as teachers or family members, who inspired or validated them; (c) influential environments that awakened them to aspects of their majors; and (d) influential experiences, such as engaging classrooms, research, and reading and/or writing literature. Participants drew on these categories also in constructing academic life narratives that presented them as continuously and richly engaged with their majors.

Results also indicate that chemistry and English majors understood their disciplinary writing experiences as unique and comprising discipline-specific genres. Whereas chemistry majors explained their writing experiences as constituting more writing-in-the-disciplines (WID) experiences, English majors explained their writing experiences as constituting more writing-to-learn (WTL) experiences. This reported orientation of writing experiences in their majors provides context for understanding how participants constructed themselves as being involved in their majors in the future.

While these findings offer direction for helping chemistry and English departments in U.S. colleges create learning environments and experiences to support students’ persistence, these findings also offer direction for research and retention iniatives involving first-year composition and WAC programs.

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