Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


STEM Education & Professional Studies


Occupational and Technical Studies

Committee Director

Philip A. Reed

Committee Member

Michael F. Kosloski

Committee Member

Thomas J. Socha


College completion in the United States is a complex and incessant problem resistant to change despite decades of effort. To address a precursor to completion, this quantitative study focused on early-career success within college. The problem of this study was to examine settings beyond large research universities and explore how interactions with professional staff affect student success.

Non-experimental research was conducted in Fall 2020, the first full semester of in-person education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were recruited from first-year seminars (FYS) and follow-up seminars (FUS) at a small residential college in the Midwest region of the United States. Of students recruited, freshmen (93%) and sophomores (100%) participated for an overall response rate of 95% (n = 362).

Participants reported their willingness to communicate and perceptions of staff non-verbal immediacy. Credit-hour completion ratios, academic coaching data, and grade point average (GPA) were sourced from official records. Correlation and multiple regression analyses explained relationships between independent variables and student success (represented by GPA in college).

This study extends scholarship that shows, in early stages of college, students’ interactions with others may influence performance and intentional support from others can impact progression. Immediacy research in this setting addresses a void in understanding perceptions of a major portion of undergraduates who do not attend large universities (Furlich, 2016). Implications extend and support theories of interpersonal/instructional communication and models of student success. Roles of professional staff, supportive contexts, and out-of-class communication were considered. Continued research of student-staff interactions in a variety of settings would continue to inform both positive communication and student success literature. Based on their unique contexts, institutions should find ways to embolden campus members, enhance current practices, and encourage impactful student interactions that could enrich experiences and influence success.


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