Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education

First Advisor

Terry Huffman, PhD

Second Advisor

Gary Sehorn, EdD

Third Advisor

Dane Joseph, PhD


This qualitative study used a phenomenological approach to explore the lived experiences and professional identity formation of four non-academic middle managers from small, private universities in the United States. Given the lack of peer-reviewed research into non-academic middle leaders in the university setting, this study aimed to expand the understanding of the challenges and motivations of the role. Personal interviews were conducted to explore how participants experienced the professional role of middle manager and how they understood their professional identity as they manage and/or lead through significant change in the university context. The research highlighted the participants’ commitment to serving students and the alignment crafting the participants used to see their professional identities as student-centric. The conversations uncovered the compassion and empathy these leaders had for their teams. They took great lengths to care for them while still striving for quality work. The middle manager role was shown to be prone to burnout and the participants employed strategies to persist. The findings of this study suggest that middle managers would benefit from pursuing professional identity development, networking, and self-care. The study will also serve as a snapshot in time of the challenges of change management during the COVID-19 era. Further research could involve revisiting participants two years after the pandemic to compare how participants' behaviors and identity changed over time.

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