Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP, Chair, Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Virginia Salzer, PhD, Chairperson

Second Advisor

Rosemary Mennuti, EdD

Third Advisor

Gwendolyn Y Davis, PhD


Research and other studies have documented the educational plight and academic difficulties of many poor, urban African American students. A number of studies have explored and identified many reasons for the low level of academic success among these students. Nonetheless, some poor, urban African American students have completed high school and college; and they have successfully transitioned to higher socioeconomic groups. The purpose of this study was to identify individual characteristics, protective factors and school processes that are significant in helping current urban, poor African American students to achieve high levels of academic success and to begin movement towards eventual upward mobility. This qualitative study conducted semi-structured interviews with sixteen senior and junior students from three low achieving high schools located in poor urban neighborhoods. All the participants were members of their respective high school's honor society. Findings from the study indicated students' level of academic success was related to individual characteristics such as an internal locus of control, resiliency, tenacity, optimism, self-awareness, goal settings, developed social skills and intellectual abilities. Identified protective factors contributing to these students' academic success were a sense of mattering, a committed belief in the transformative power of education, mentoring and othermothering experiences, involvement in extracurricular activities and racial socialization. Significant processes included school structure and curriculum that provided enrichment opportunities, and motivational school programs offering experiential opportunities for connections with colleges, companies and agencies. Findings also indicated each of theses aspects was interrelated and had a holistic compound impact on student functioning. Involvement in religion or religious institution was found to be a negligible factor.