Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl A. Getz, EdD; Terri Monroe, EdD; Lea A. Hubbard, PhD


assigned authority, Graduate Teaching Assistant--GTA, Grounded theory, leadership class, higher education, Leadership studies, professional development, women


Women are assuming positions with significant formal authority, yet women still remain underrepresented in many areas of the public sector (Kellerman & Rhode, 2007). Additionally, women in formal positions of authority have increased opportunities to exercise leadership and address challenges while mobilizing people toward change. Formal positions of authority include the role of mother, schoolteacher, senator, or senior executive. It is rare for women to receive any practice for the authority roles they assume and as such may find the roles accompanied by interactions and processes that are unfamiliar to them. The role of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) provides women the opportunity to practice, and hopefully improve upon, their ability to learn about, demonstrate, and manage authority. Thus, this study investigated the experiences of six female graduate teaching assistants in a semester long graduate leadership class that used case-in-point pedagogy. The purpose of this research was to better understand women's experience as they transitioned into a formal role of authority as a GTA. Three research questions framed this study: 1) How do female graduate students in a graduate-level leadership class experience the transition into a role of formal authority, 2) How do female teaching assistants in a graduate-level leadership class experience, understand, and think about themselves in a role that has a great deal of formal authority, and 3) What are female teaching assistants' perceptions of how, if at all, their authority was used in the service of leadership? A grounded theory approach was used that incorporated some elements of feminist research principles. Data collection included multiple interviews with the participants over the semester, observations of the leadership class, document review of participants' journals and reflection papers, and a final group interview with five participants to discuss the themes that emerged as a result of the preliminary analysis. Findings indicate that a complex process of finding and using their voice characterized the women's transition into their role. Additionally, the women experienced tensions around understanding themselves and the leadership class system as a whole; these tensions needed to be reconciled before the women could employ strategies for demonstrating their authority.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies