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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fostering success : the question of belongingness at the graduate level Finley, Angela Michelle


This mixed methods research study explores the relationship between belongingness and academic success for graduate students from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). With Canadian universities diversifying student populations by drastically increasing the number of students being admitted from non-English speaking backgrounds, knowing how best to support NESB learners is of great concern to institutions, administrations, and educators. Researchers from many disciplines, particularly psychology, recognize that belongingness is an essential human need and motivation, yet it is often overlooked in education. Belongingness has been advanced as a powerful means of fostering academic success in higher education, yet in the field of Additional Language Teaching and Learning (ALTL), it is not well understood. This research can inform both educators and those involved with institutional policy enactment in ways to build stronger academic and institutional learning communities for NESB students. In this study, graduate students from both English and non-English speaking backgrounds were surveyed at a research-intensive Western Canadian university in order to better understand perceptions of belongingness, language acquisition, and academic success. NESB participants were then interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Data from 36 survey responses and 3 interviews were gathered and interpreted through hermeneutic phenomenological approaches. The results of the study indicate that participants, particularly NESB students, perceived belongingness as an important aspect of their academic success at the graduate level. In particular, they identified that their peer to peer relationships, their relationships between students and faculty, and the classroom and campus environment all played key roles in their perceptions of belongingness. The data suggests that having a greater sense of belongingness would increase students’ feelings of happiness and satisfaction, as well as increase loyalty and allegiance to the university. This research has implications for educators and institutions concerned with inclusive education and best practices for English as a second language (ESL) and English as an additional language (EAL) students. It may also have impacts for other student populations as well, such as Aboriginal students, at-risk students, and even students from traditional or mainstream backgrounds.

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