Pioneer Women: Meaning Making and Career Aspirations of Women in an Inaugural Master of Arts in Education Cohort

Among the trends in American higher education over the past decade is the overall growth of students in graduate programs. This study focuses on the experiences of Latina women in an inaugural cohort in a Master of Arts in Education program with an emphasis in higher education leadership at an institution in the United States. The study aimed to explore the lived experiences of these participants as they shared their meaning making and career aspirations upon completing their graduate program. The women in this study were career professionals in the field of higher education, including academic and student services. The experiences shared formed four themes, including academic motivation, cohort experiences, family and support systems, and career aspirations. Constructivist research in the areas of self-authorship and meaning making guided this study of college students and women. The methodological structure was also informed by the Listening Guide Method advanced by Gilligan (1982, 2015). It was valuable to capture feedback from these participants because of their shared experience of being the first to journey through their academic program together. This qualitative study is based on a narrative research design, and the data was collected during semi-structured interviews with the participants. This study was made with participants from a public university, a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), located in California. By exploring the cohort and graduate school experiences through the narratives of the participants, the reader will gain both an understanding of how the women interacted with each other as a cohort throughout their educational journey and insight into how the graduate program affected the participants as they explored the implications of the program for their career aspirations. Recommendations for academic programs, support, and further research are highlighted at the conclusion of this study.