Date of Award

Spring 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Christina Ortmeier-Hooper

Second Advisor

Thomas Newkirk

Third Advisor

Cristy Beemer


This study examines how Upward Bound (UB), a federally-funded pre-college outreach program for underrepresented students, impacted participants' access to academic writing and higher education. Based on the perspective that writing practices both reflect and shape identity, I constructed a series of case studies that followed five linguistically and culturally diverse students from the Upward Bound summer program to determine how this intervention impacted their identifications with academic writing during their senior year of high school and the college admissions process.

This year-long qualitative study used transcribed student interviews and focus groups along with writing samples as primary data sources. These sources were then triangulated with visual artifacts, institutional documents, fieldnotes from observations in the high schools and UB, and transcribed interviews with key informants, such as teachers and advisors. Based on themes emerging within and across the case studies, I turned to the following theoretical perspectives to analyze the sociocultural influences on participants' writing practices and identities: difference as resource, Communities of Practice, performance, and literacy sponsorship. As analytical frameworks, these theories allowed me to analyze how the unique and often conflicting writing practices participants experienced in their homes, high schools, and UB shaped their writerly identities and educational trajectories.

Findings revealed that UB provided a sort of liminal time and space, betwixt and between high school and college, home and school. Due to this unique context, the practices and identities participants developed within the program did not always transfer to the writing they experienced during high school and the admissions process. For instance, the participants found that the authentic writing and social supports they experienced within the program helped them to gain confidence, motivation, and rhetorical awareness as writers. However, limited resources and tracking within their high schools disrupted these trajectories, resulting in a loss of confidence and motivation. Similarly, participants were able to draw on linguistic and cultural resources to write their college admissions essay. However, over the course of the admissions process, the gatekeeping function of college admissions and scholarship essays turned these cultural connections to conflicts.

This study bears significant implications for several groups of educators. It suggests that traditional educational institutions and pre-college outreach programs could benefit from working together in order to promote transfer of learning and to better support the many students not served by these programs. It also suggests that literacy reforms need to establish opportunity-to-learn standards in order to give districts, schools, and teachers the material resources they need to help all students achieve the same outcomes. English educators and high school writing teachers can use insights from this study to create safe communities of writers and to use information about students' needs, strengths, and interests to develop authentic and culturally-relevant writing experiences. Finally, writing program administrators and first-year writing instructors should familiarize themselves with their students' high school writing experiences and avoid perpetuating the stigmatizing institutional policies and identities they may have experienced there.