Date of Award

Fall 12-14-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language

First Advisor

Diane Belcher

Second Advisor

Linda Harklau

Third Advisor

Gayle Nelson

Fourth Advisor

Stephanie Lindemann


The growing number of language minority students graduating from a U.S. high school and entering college has motivated many studies. These students are often referred to as Generation 1.5, a term that loosely indicates they arrived in this country at an early age and had most of their education in U.S. K-12 settings. The studies that have focused on this population often group refugees with other immigrants. Although refugees may not have arrived in this country at an early age, those coming from war torn countries as teenagers have often had their formal education interrupted in their home countries with the result that schooling in the U.S. comprises most, if not all, of their education.

The purpose of the current study was to investigate how refugee students experience academic literacy practices in their first year of college, the challenges they face in this process, and the resources and strategies they use to cope with postsecondary reading and writing demands. In order to carry out this investigation, a qualitative year-long multiple-case study (Duff, 2008) was conducted. Participants were seven refugee students attending a small liberal arts college. Data collection involved interviews with the focal participants and faculty, class observations, and written documents. Findings revealed that all seven participants were successful completing their first year in college, passing all the classes they registered for. At the same time, the day-to-day struggle to keep up and cope with reading and writing assignments presented these students with several challenges resulting from their still developing English language proficiency, lack of background knowledge, and unfamiliarity with academic genres, to name a few sources of difficulty. These challenges were offset by the motivation showed by the seven participants and their ability in developing coping strategies and drawing upon the resources made available to them. Repeated use of resources and uncritical acceptance of support, however, sometimes yielded undesirable results. The findings indicate that many of the strategies used by the participants involved peers, tutors, and professors who, within the supportive college environment, offered these students the assistance they needed.