Date of Conferral







Catherine Marienau


Graduation rates in bachelor's degrees in the United States continue to be lower than stakeholders expect, despite the many advantages of college completion. This phenomenological study investigated the interplay between resilience, coping strategies, and college completion for undergraduate art and design students in an effort to improve graduation rates. The purpose of this study was to address gaps in the literature regarding art and design students' resilience and academic success. Findings were interpreted using 3 conceptual frameworks: resilience theory, Bronfenbrenner's ecology of human development, and Dweck's theory of mindsets and self-beliefs. Research questions guiding this study addressed the external and internal factors that support resilience, the most stressful situations students faced while attending the university, and the coping strategies students used to manage stress, regain resilience and graduate. Data collection included individual semi-structured interviews with 11 graduating seniors and an alum from a single public university in the eastern United States. Data were supplemented by individual semi-structured interviews with 1 faculty member and 2 campus counselors from the same university who had extensive interactions with art and design undergraduates. Key results from the data analysis found that supportive relationships with peers, access to financial aid, stress-free living environments, motivation, tenacity, and self-efficacy were important factors for academic success. The most stressful situations students reported were studio critiques, a lack of compatibility with roommates, and health issues. This study promotes positive social change by providing information for stakeholder's use in bolstering students' resilience in order to manage stress and improve college completion rates.