Happenstance Learning Theory and Career Development of Executive Latinas in Higher Education
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This qualitative research explored and shared the career development of seven Latinas, in executive administrative roles in higher education institutions, through their narratives. The study used planned happenstance and happenstance learning theory (HLT) to analyze the skills and strategies used in the career development of these Latinas. My goal was not only to share the stories of these Latinas but also to reveal what is needed in assisting the next generation of Latina leaders. By understanding the skills and strategies that contribute to the success of Latina women in higher education institutions can develop programs to assist other Latinas and minorities to reach their leadership career goals.
The main research questions that guided this study were: What can we learn from the stories of executive Latinas in higher education and how they navigated their career paths into executive administrator roles in higher education institutions? And how does happenstance learning theory help understand the career development of Latinas in these executive higher administration roles? There were seven Latinas in the study, from various regions in Texas providing insight from various institutions and perspectives. This study used qualitative methods to understand their experiences and build theory from the data collected. Data collection included semi-structured interviews, collection of personal artifacts, and documents, such as public data. The narrative analysis process discussed by Riessman (1993) was used to make sense of the events and actions the Latinas took in their career development to reach their executive positions as well as typological analysis discussed by Hatch (2002) to begin the data analysis.
I found that the Latinas in this study used the five skills—curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk taking—discussed as central to HLT. Two of the five happenstance skills were more prevalent throughout the Latina’s stories; these were flexibility and risk taking. Additionally, two other career development strategies not discussed as a part of HLT were identified through inductive analysis of participants stories. The significance of the study is further discussed in providing recommendations for practice and future research.