Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Susan Yoon


Student motivation in high school is a long-standing topic of interest considering the widespread problem of low academic engagement and relatively high dropout rates, which are predicted by low attendance. This prevailing problem is indicative that previous interventions have not been sufficient. One hypothesis is that interventions may be too targeted towards outcomes and neglect what motivation researchers in psychology have learned over decades. Motivation researchers, specifically self-determination theorists, have identified three underlying psychological needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) that are critical to fostering intrinsic motivation. This study hypothesizes that these needs are not being met in the school setting even when academic interventions are present. This study will explore how a new intervention, The Future Project, that is not directly academic in nature but as a Positive Youth Development program may proactively foster these psychological needs and could be more effective in enhancing high school student academic motivation. The programming includes four facets: building one-on-one relationships between a student and mentor, exposing students to skill building courses, supporting students individually to design projects that they are passionate about and that have an impact on the world in some way, and it develops an intimate team of students who serve as collaborative leaders in their schools to support each other and their peers in self-reflection or personal project development. This is a mixed methods phenomenological study using secondary data analysis of student and alumni interviews, principal and teacher surveys, and teacher interviews. All data was collected by The Future Project in Spring 2016 to explore the student experience when participating in The Future Project programming and to gather feedback from students, teachers, and administrators. This study will use this data to explore how participating in The Future Project may contribute to fulfilling students’ needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness; and how that influences student academic motivation and engagement, which have previously been determined as precursors to academic achievement; and to illustrate the mechanisms that connect autonomy, competence, and relatedness with academic motivation and engagement.