Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education

First Advisor

Margaret Eisenhart

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Dutro

Third Advisor

Carla Jones

Fourth Advisor

Ben Kirshner

Fifth Advisor

Kevin O’Connor

Abstract

As young people incorporate digital media into the ecologies of their daily lives, new technologies play an important role in how they experience higher education while simultaneously creating a digital record of their educational pathways. Little research has been conducted that explores how Millennials’ forays into college life are defined by and documented with digital media.

In this dissertation, I draw on data from the Female Recruits Explore Engineering (FREE) and FREE Pathways studies (xploreengineering.org). These longitudinal studies were designed to understand the educational pathways of academically talented, women of color from low and lower-middle income families. After their high school graduation in 2009, Facebook was incorporated into the ethnographic study. The women’s wall pages, information pages and participation on a FREE Pathways group page were a “lens” for research

In my analysis, Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner and Cain’s Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds (1998) provided me with a conceptual framework to understand Facebook as a cultural artifact. A cultural artifact in the young women’s lives, Facebook mediated their participation in culturally figured worlds and affected their social positioning with respect to higher education.

After high school, the women’s educational pathways diverged based on their access to financial aid and scholarships. Some of the women were fully enrolled in four-year universities while others struggled to enroll or stay enrolled at local community colleges. These diverging pathways were documented on Facebook as the women narrated their pathways in the group page posts and updated their educational enrollment and experiences through status updates on wall pages and biographical listings on information pages.

Facebook mediated participation in figured worlds in particular ways that support college going women, but worked to marginalize women who are having trouble gaining access to college. Facebook stabilized and magnified differences between women and reinforced their social positioning as some seemed to be achieving the upward social mobility they desired while others felt that their dreams were put on pause. The historically and culturally-driven structure of the social media platform contributed to the reproduction of the women’s social positioning based on their access to college-oriented economic, social and cultural capital.

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