Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Rehabilitation and Counselor Education

First Advisor

Portman, Tarrell Awe Agahe

First Committee Member

Duys, David K.

Second Committee Member

Ehly, Stewart W.

Third Committee Member

Saunders, Jeanne A.

Fourth Committee Member

Wood, Susannah M.


The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the ways in which the family, school, and community environments contribute to the academic success of urban, African American high school graduates from low-income, single-parent families. During a three-month period, in-depth individual and focus group interviews were conducted with eight African American high school graduates who excelled academically despite adversity. The student participants were also asked to identify at least one person in their lives who were considered important sources of support. Of the eight social support providers identified, four participated in separate individual interviews focusing on the form of support provided to student participants. The perspectives of student participants on how they overcame adversity and achieved academic success are essential for identifying and understanding the support structures that facilitate academic achievement. Ideally, the results of this study may inform the development of interventions, programs, and counseling practices focused on creating and enhancing the personal and environmental attributes that promote achievement outcomes for other youth in high risk environments (Fraser, 2004; Wang & Gordon, 1994). At the same time, this qualitative research study aimed to counter the trend towards negative portrayals of urban African American youth.

Findings from the present study revealed that protective factors across multiple contexts of students' lives contributed to their academic success despite adversity. Eight themes emerged from participants responses: education specific parenting practices, non-traditional ways of supporting education, maintained kinship networks, school as an agent of families, resilience promoting features of schools, supportive relational networks within the community, promoting ecological resilience to improve student outcomes, and relational strategies to promote educational resilience. Recommendations for practical applications and future research are included.


African American, Counseling, Ecological, Education, Resilience, Youth


ix, 147 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 113-122).


Copyright 2011 Joseph Michael Williams