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Spirituality and Social Change Leadership: A Mixed Methods Investigation of Undergraduate Student Leaders

Meghan Kenney, Johnson & Wales University


College is often considered a time when students grapple with life questions and identity development. Astin, Astin, and Lindholm (2011) define the process of identity development and the search for meaning and purpose as college student spirituality. Research reveals that 80% of college students are seeking purpose and meaning in their lives (Astin et al., 2011; Clydesdale, 2015). One opportunity for students to explore their purpose and define their values is through co-curricular activities, such as leadership development programs (Astin et al., 2011). The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate and explore the relationship between spirituality and leadership development in undergraduate college students who participated in a regional leadership development program. The following research questions guided this study: 1. Is there a relationship between spiritual quest and equanimity and dimensions of social change leadership for students participating in a leadership development program? (QN) 2. To what extent is variation in both spirituality measures and social change leadership measures related to gender, class year, institution type, and institutional religious affiliation? (QN) 3. How do students participating in a leadership development program describe spirituality and leadership? (QL) Phase I data collection surveyed (N=54) undergraduate students in a leadership development program. Multiple concurrent qualitative phases included Phase I students in dyadic and individual interviews (N=5), key informant interviews with staff members who advise leadership programs (N=2), and reflective student questionnaires (N=4). Quantitative analysis yielded a significant positive relationship between various measures of leadership and spirituality. Neither gender, class year, institution type, nor institutional religious affiliation had a significant impact on students’ leadership or spirituality. Three primary concepts emerged from the qualitative findings: 1) leadership, 2) spirituality, and 3) relationship between leadership and spirituality, supported by detailed sub-concepts. Results of the connected findings between data sources suggested that students participating in a leadership development program identify a positive relationship between leadership and spirituality and seek opportunities to develop both. The benefit of this study may be to assist student affairs practitioners in developing an understanding of the role of spirituality in leadership development and in implementing leadership programs that incorporate spirituality.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Spirituality|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Kenney, Meghan, "Spirituality and Social Change Leadership: A Mixed Methods Investigation of Undergraduate Student Leaders" (2018). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10793948.