English Ph.D. Dissertations


First-Generation College Students Transitioning to Graduate Teachers of Writing: A Proposed First-Generation Pedagogy

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing)

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Becca Cragin (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)


Existing research on first-generation college students has focused on the student and their paths from high school to college, experiences attending college, and expectations of the middle-class academy. Such student populations are not situated within similar positions that conventional students are often faced with. When differences in literacy practices are not brought into consideration, other voices are lost and denied. Based on these conversations, the dissertation focuses on shifting the way we look at first-year writing instructors who identify as first generation graduate students and how such identifiers may influence their philosophies of teaching.

With its focus on first-generation graduate teachers of writing, the dissertation seeks to determine how these identifiers influence participants’ personal philosophy of teaching and pedagogy. Based on the existing, yet lacking research, in the field of Rhetoric and Composition about first-generation college students, this study focuses on the underrepresented (frequently misrepresented) population of first-generation students who are in graduate school and teach writing. This research provides an additional insight into they identifier, of first-generation at the graduate level, an insight that can benefit undergraduate students with similar identifiers as well as those who provide their writing instruction.

Employing focus group, observation, interview, and textual analysis, this study looks at the practices of seven participants (five identifying as first-generation, one traditional, and one Writing Program Administrator) and how their experiences may have influenced their philosophies of teaching. The dissertation proposes the need for a first generation pedagogy as a way to help undergraduates, first-generation and traditional, among others, ease their transition into the academy. Asking first-generation students to share their experiences and make connections to their knowledge-making can place an emphasis on otherwise silenced voices, thereby validating their presence in the academy.