Graduation Year


Document Type

Capstone Project

Project Type

Qualitative Study

Degree Name

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy


Occupational Therapy

Program Chair

Julia Wilbarger, OTR/L, PhD

Faculty Advisor

Karen McCarthy, OTD, OTR/L


Background: First-generation college students (FGCS) represent an underserved population navigating through higher education and therefore receive less support. There is a current gap in the literature that overlooks the interactions of occupational experiences, imposter phenomenon (IP), and first-generation college students. The purpose of this study is to use grounded theory to observe the impact of IP among FGCS enrolled in a four-year university in California.

Method: This research is a qualitative study using thematic analysis grounded theory. Data was collected through a screening survey and follow-up interview via video chats and in-person sessions, and a live transcription software of 11 participants who identify as FGCS.

Results: Thematic analysis generated five themes: (a) emotional aspects of imposter phenomenon, (b) collectivism, (c) balance, (d) peers, (e) othering. FGCS often come from backgrounds that emphasize collectivism. When also experiencing intersectionality, FGCS may experience feelings of othering in spaces they do not fit in. After adjusting to their surroundings, FGCS become adaptable to reach a sense of belonging.

Conclusion: This study contributes to occupational science literature by expanding the understanding of occupational experiences with consideration to IP. From this, the theoretical approach of occupational therapy gains more cultural inclusivity to better serve diverse populations.

Keywords: First-generation college students (FGCS), Imposter Phenomenon (IP), intersectionality, grounded theory, occupation, occupational science