Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


A Quantitative and Qualitative Inquiry into the Call to Serve Among Non-Traditional Undergraduate Social Work Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Judith A. Zimmerman (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Judy Jackson May (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Mark A. Earley (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Gerald Strom (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Sr. Ann Francis Klimkowski, OFS (Committee Member)


The purposes of this study were to explore the narratives of nontraditional social work students who were identified as servant leaders, and to investigate the students' perception of his or her call to service and the meaning of leadership within their developmental and prior lived experiences. This exploration study examined the phenomena of baccalaureate social work education as a choice for nontraditional students. Three research questions guided this investigation: (a) What is the relevance of self-resiliency and self-efficacy to these individuals and to their self-identification as social work leaders? (b) What can these stories tell us about how we can better structure social work education and curricula for students who are nontraditional? (c) What instructional methods and advising strategies should social work education consider in order to better support and nurture leadership in this group?

Quantitative and qualitative methodologies supported the study of these questions. A survey was administered to 33 nontraditional social work students who were enrolled in an introductory social work class. Six key informants were identified through the survey and interviews were conducted with these informants that identified themes that emerged from the survey and through the conceptual framework of the research proposal. A semi-structured interview with standardized questions was completed with each key informant, and of the key informants also participated in a cognitive mapping exercise in order to elicit more detailed data.

The findings suggested that: (a) key informants validated the concepts of the research framework, (b) key informants identified the concept of resiliency as most significant and relevant in their call to serve through social work, and,(c) key informants provided additional concepts with meaningful connections to their decision to seek professional social work education. The research raised questions to be further explored with nontraditional students can provide additional guidance to baccalaureate social work program directors, support recruitment and retention strategies in social work higher education, and inform standards and policies of the accrediting body of professional social work education.