Date of Award

Fall 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership

Committee Director

Dana D. Burnett

Committee Member

Christopher R. Glass

Committee Member

William A. Owings

Committee Member

Tisha M. Paredes


Present day leaders grapple with a dynamic environment of evolving challenges. Prior leadership studies have afforded revisions of leadership theories in an attempt to remain relevant with the prominently shifting environment. The leadership models that underscore college leadership development programs should reflect the updated theories and practices which expose student leaders to solving complex problems they will experience. This study explores the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for college students to be able to conceptualize and address system’s level leadership challenges. Foremost, the study examined instructional tools and methods that students found impactful for improving conceptualization and achievement of systems-level leadership skills necessary to create desired change.

I utilized a phenomenological research tradition, which examined the teaching techniques, theories, and models utilized for leadership development in a university co-curricular setting. The research process facilitated a depth of understanding of how leadership development training impacts the lived experiences and affects student leaders. The hermeneutic phenomenological design enabled the exploration of similar and differentiating themes among student leaders’ experiences (Moustakas, 1964). These themes informed hermeneutic conversations as participants were encouraged to reflect on their experience during the focus groups that were one means of collecting my data (Van Manen, 2011). To uncover a better understanding of this phenomenon, this study examined individual student’s practices, and analyzed the responses from fellow students who work alongside the leaders at a large research university located in a metropolitan area of the Southeastern U.S. Since leaders’ roles and behaviors vary and depend on interactions with other students, this qualitative, interpretive method in a social construct context, seemed a most appropriate way to investigate the phenomenon of systems level leadership (Hays & Singh, 2012).