First-Year Students' Navigation of Belonging and Connectedness with their University Experience

The first-year of college has been identified as the most critical year of a student’s higher education experience, in that it determines how students will interact and integrate within academic and social circles that contribute to their college experience, and, navigates their decision towards degree persistence (Hagedorn & Castro, 1999; Hausman, Schofield, & Woods, 2007, as cited in Ribera, Miller and Dumford, 2017, p. 545). The purpose of this study sought to gain an understanding of how roommate experiences of residential students impact their sense of belonging with the university and how this relationship influences academic and social development during the first-year of study. Seven first-year residential students’ stories guided this project through their shared experiences, which exposed three essential themes that often navigate a successful roommate relationship: (1) importance of knowing the person; (2) conflict avoidance; and (3) belongingness within the living environment. The focus of feedback that emerged through the interviews concentrated on how the impacts relational issues influence with the overall college experience. The theoretical framework includes, Vincent Tinto’s (1993) Theory of Individual Student Departure from College, Alexander Astin’s (1984) Student Involvement-Environment-Output Model, and, Terrel Strayhorn’s (2012) Theory of Integration. All three theories contributed diverse understandings of how first-year students navigate their campus experience. The research questions that guided this study included: • What impacts does the roommate experience have on first-year students' sense of "belongingness" to the university? • What are the impacts of the roommate experience on first year students’ academic and social development? This was a qualitative study conducted at a four-year public Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) located in Southern California within a university student housing community. The overall purpose of this study sought to inform housing administrators about improved efficiencies and strategies that can be implemented to support the processing of successful roommate matches which have a direct influence on students’ interaction with their college experience during their first-year of study.