Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Larry Ebbers


This qualitative study focused on the life journeys of four ELCA college presidents. Specifically, it examined how life journeys informed their ascendency to the presidency. In this study, life journeys are defined as "the professional and personal happenings the participants experienced during their professional years prior to earning an ELCA presidency." Life journeys include career paths, impactful professional experiences, personal relationships, the formation of self-identity, and other meaningful transitions as identified by the participants.

Numerous studies exist about the career paths of higher education administrators (Amey & VanDerLinden, 2002; Birnbaum & Umbach, 2001; Brown, 2000; Campbell, Mueller, & Souza, 2010; Jackson & Harris, 2005; Song & Hartley, 2012; Munoz, 2006; Green, 1983). College president transitions have also been examined (Krause, 2009; Turner, 2007; Toman, 2008; Moore, 1983). Many of these studies concentrated on the trajectories of females to the presidency as well as the community college environment.

Methodologically, narrative analysis was used, and the four participants were purposefully selected from upper Midwest Evangelical Lutheran Church of America colleges and universities (ELCA). The primary data collection method used was unstructured interviews that employed the narrative interview technique in partnership with Seidman's interview technique. Participants participated in a series of three interviews, where they shared their lived experiences through uninterrupted stories. Using thematic analysis that involves coding and text reduction, themes were found and organized into three overarching categories: (1) work experiences prior to attaining the presidency; (2) lives beyond the office; and (3) a sense of vocational calling and the alignment of personal gifts and passions to address institutional needs.

Addressing the overarching research question in this study, "How do life journeys impact career paths to ELCA college presidencies?", both professional and personal factors were found to contribute to career ascendency. Being open to new opportunities, holding administrative and leadership roles, having supportive spouses and families, and having a deep sense of self all contributed to the attainment of additional leadership roles, culminating in an ELCA college presidency. Participants shared a common understanding of Lutheran traditions and Lutheran higher education and vocation, and a desire to help others. Additionally, commonalities existed about work-life balance and the challenges it presents, the importance of having hobbies, the demands of ELCA college presidencies, and in reflections of transitions the participants experienced during their life journeys.

Implications due to this study's findings exist for a variety of audiences, including ELCA higher education administrators, aspiring higher education leaders across all institutional types, ELCA college presidents, individual ELCA institutions, ELCA colleges and universities as a whole, and individual ELCA college and university institutional governing boards.

This study created opportunities for future research. Recommended studies using the same methodological approach include examining the life journeys of female ELCA college presidents, the life journeys of ELCA presidents in other geographic locations, the life journeys of presidents from different institutional types, the life journeys of ELCA presidents from schools of different Lutheran depth, the life journeys of spouses and children of current ELCA college presidents, and the life journeys of other higher education administrators beyond the presidency.

Additional research could also examine life journeys using Schlossberg's (1995) theory of transition or Holland's (1997) theory of vocational personalities and work environments as the entire conceptual framework of the study.


Copyright Owner

Wesley Harris Brooks



File Format


File Size

201 pages