Student Researches Factors Impacting College Transitions

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Courtesy of Jason Dufour

Jason Dufour presented his psychology research at last year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Sarah Huffman , Assistant News Editor

Jason Dufour, FCRH ’20, has spent the last year researching how social support, rumination (repetitive negative thought patterns about past or current events), perceived stress and sleep affect young adults’ transition into college. Last September, he started working for Tiffany Yip, Ph.D., in her Youth Development in Diverse Contexts (YDDC) lab.

The lab focuses on adolescent development and examines variables such as discrimination, sleep and both emotional and mental well-being throughout high school years. Last year, the lab started a study called the Fordham University Sleep Study (FUSS) that looks at the immediate transition of college freshmen into the college environment.

He studied how social support, rumination, perceived stress and sleep could either exacerbate the difficulty of the transition or make it easier.

“We all know that the transition into college isn’t easy,” he said. “At one time or another, we all struggle. There’s actually a surprising lacking amount of research in terms of the transition in the context of psychology.”

Dufour said the lab used verified, highly-reliable scales to observe the factors including sleep actigraphy watches that measure the participants’ movements and collects data while they sleep. The watches have a protocol to code the data, to see how long it took them to fall asleep, how long they slept for, their quality of sleep and more. They also had the participants fill out surveys and provide biomarkers, such as hair samples.

Dufour said the study found that perceived stress and rumination have a positive relationship, meaning as one increases the other also increases. He said that as people feel their perceived stress increasing, their negative thought patterns increase. It also found that family social support exacerbates the relationship, worsening stress.

Last year, the study had 61 participants, and this year, it will have 65 participants. Dufour said he thought these findings were interesting and wanted to look at them more, so he applied for a summer research grant and decided to do a more qualitative means of collecting data. Dufour set up three focus groups with the intention of exploring this transition in a richer context.

“The point of qualitative data collection is to really enrich the research that already exists,” said Dufour. “It’s often used in situations where there’s not much research out there on the topic to begin with because it helps give researchers a better idea of what to target in their future work.”

Throughout the summer, Dufour created focus group questions and developed an institutional review board amendment, which is needed for any human participant research.

Dufour said he wanted to collect data from last year’s study participants as a one-year follow-up about their transitions. He said he wanted to get an idea about what factors were most important in their transitions and which ones did not matter as much.

“There’s the saying ‘hindsight is always 20/20,’” he said. “I thought it would be really interesting to get sophomores’ perspective from the data collection that we got from them freshman year. I eventually want to compare the data from the focus groups to the data from last year to kind of get a more longitudinal perspective of their experience and the perceptions of their experiences.”

Dufour’s study had three focus groups; one commuter students group, one students of color group and one residential students group. Dufour said published literature suggests that focus groups should be made up of homogenous strangers, people who have the same or similar demographic or ethnic makeup, to allow them to feel more comfortable.

He said they also do not want the subjects to know each other, removing bias in terms of what they share and do not share.

Dufour said he created group-specific questions to target their unique experiences. He said there was an interesting comparison between commuters and residents because their experiences of integrating themselves into the community were very different, despite both being students at the same university.

Dufour conducted the focus groups in mid-September and is now in the process of transcribing all of the data so it can be coded. He applied for a fall research grant to buy software called Invivo, which is used as a means of analyzing qualitative data.

He is developing this project into his thesis, and he plans on presenting at the research symposium this spring. Dufour also plans on submitting his preliminary findings for the focus groups and two cohorts of quantitative data collection to the American Psychological Association conference next August.

A more concise understanding of the transition to college is really important for the benefit of future college students, according to Dufor. He said that hopefully, administrations around the country will be able to cater to different students’ transitions because of the support of research.

“I think it’s really important, because based off of my experience and experience of pretty much every other college student that I’ve talked to about this topic, the transition is difficult for many many reasons,” Dufour said. “But like I was saying earlier, there’s little research to support why it’s so difficult.”