Millennial Combat Veterans: How Identity Shapes Experience in College Open Access
The purpose of this study was to build upon the growing foundational base of knowledge on the academic and social transitions of student combat veterans and contribute to a greater theoretical understanding of this population and how their perception of identity may influence their experience as college students. The researcher conducted a qualitative study to explore the experiences of student combat veterans as they transitioned from the military to higher education and discovered how their perceptions of their own identity influenced their experiences in college. The researcher's investigation aimed to answer a primary research question: How do combat veterans perceive their own identity and what influence does this have on their experience as college students? Hecht's (1993) Communication Theory of Identity (CTI) and Gee's (2000) conceptual identity model served as guiding frameworks for the development of interview protocols in a two-part semi-structured interview series. Nineteen student veterans (n=19) at two community colleges in Northwestern Massachusetts were interviewed. In addition to participant interviews, the researcher employed fieldwork throughout the study in an effort to provide the appropriate data triangulation, including observations during student veteran organization meetings and college-sponsored events, and informal conversations with student veterans, faculty, and staff at each site. Analysis of the data consisted of the three levels of coding recommended by Strauss and Corbin (1998): (a) open (emic) coding, (b) axial coding, and (c) selective (etic) coding. Seven initial categories of data and common codes were identified amongst all 19 participants at both research sites. These categories and associated codes were then evaluated by the researcher in the context of the research question and protocols for distinctive overlapping commonalities and parallel meaning, then grouped into core themes. Four themes representing the collective experiences and perceptions of the participants emerged in the research: Perception of self, perception of others, inferred perception of self, and connections to other veterans. The researcher found each of these themes influenced the experience for participants as college students on multiple levels.
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