Undergraduate leadership development at MIT: Making meaning from student leadership experience

Stephen David Immerman, University of Pennsylvania


This study is a single-site qualitative analysis of undergraduate student leadership conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although numerous leadership opportunities and experiences exist for undergraduate students on campus, MIT has only recently begun the process of planning for the intentional integration of those leadership experiences within the educational framework of the Institute. This study was designed to deepen and expand the understanding of how elected undergraduate student leaders make meaning of their leadership experiences in the context of their MIT education. In doing so, this study incorporates the observations of elected undergraduate student leaders so that the findings may directly contribute to the process of designing and implementing undergraduate student leadership development programs at MIT. In researching how MIT elected undergraduate student leaders make meaning from their leadership experiences, this study investigated how elected undergraduate student leaders understand and value their student leadership experience and how they come to understand that experience in the context of their education at MIT. Using a case study approach, 18 undergraduate, fourth-year, elected student leaders were selected and individually interviewed. In addition, two focus groups comprising a total of 16 students with the same characteristics were interviewed to identify key issues, generate questions for the individual interviews, and to test themes generated by the individual interviews. Data from the individual interviews and focus groups were coded and analyzed through constant comparison, and themes were extracted. Member checking and a post-analysis focus group were used to enhance validity. The study found that MIT undergraduate student leaders were predisposed to involvement and leadership, but that they interpreted and derived meaning about the value and significance those experiences from MIT's context and culture, and from the people with whom they interacted. Based upon the findings, recommendations were developed to highlight opportunities for intervention including leadership development program content, integrated institutional messaging, peer and staff training, student partnerships and reflective learning.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Immerman, Stephen David, "Undergraduate leadership development at MIT: Making meaning from student leadership experience" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3311544.