Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Leadership and Policies

First Advisor

C. Spencer Platt


Black students represent nearly 15% of the college student population, yet nationally only 6% of these students participate in internships and study abroad. Comparatively, White students represent approximately 52% of the college student population, and they represent over 70% of the students who participate in internships and study abroad. This is significant because internships and study abroad experiences can help students gain access to mentors and improve their retention and graduation rates. This study sought to determine if Black students believed they gained career readiness competencies during their experiences.

This qualitative study included interviews, observations and photos from Black seniors who attend or are recent graduates of a southeastern, public, predominantly white, 4-year institution. The historically contentious nature of how Black students accessed predominantly white institutions during the Civil Rights Movement provided insight into why Black students may not access the experiences at the rate of their peers. The researcher asserts that due to the culture of predominantly white institutions, Black students may not feel a sense of belonging to access the experiences, and those who do gain access have relationships with faculty and staff or personal connections that helped them navigate the institution to gain access to internship and study abroad experiences. Students perceived race as a major factor in the way they experienced the predominantly white campus environment, and it impacted their access to internships and study abroad. Several students in the study participated in these experiences due to a requirement for graduation or because it was expected in their academic department.

The research study finds that internship and study abroad experiences helped students gain career readiness competencies that will prepare them for post-graduation employment. The students who gained access to internship and study abroad experiences believed they developed more self-confidence, improved their communication skills, and gained a better understanding of their career of interest. They believed these experiences helped prepare them for their post-graduation plans to find employment or attend graduate or professional school.


© 2023, Erica James Lake