Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name





Dragana Martinovic




A community of practice (CoP) is an important site for professionals to engage in the joint enterprise of defining and developing competence in a particular field. As such, it is far more than a site for networking and knowledge exchange. Seminal literature describes the CoP as a place where competence in a profession or field can be defined as moving from legitimate peripheral participation to full membership. This process involves observation, mentorship, and involvement in continued communal practice amongst a group of professionals. Working in and as a group also offers opportunities for forming important professional relationships and acquiring valuable knowledge that may support this move toward the becoming an acknowledged expert in the field. This study explored and furthered discussions of developing a professional identity in student affairs. The primary goal was to broaden the idea of identity development as an individual exercise of acquiring explicit knowledge, to the role of a CoP in developing, negotiating, and sharing tacit knowledge. Six participants representing emerging professionals in student affairs (0-5 years of full time experience, 35 years of age or younger) offered insights into an area of CoP participation. The CoP as a site for this identity development offered a space for the negotiation and communication of the tacit knowledge that influences how this professional identity is formed over time. As new professionals are on the cusp of rapid identity development both personally and professionally, this tacit knowledge is critically important for the development of a professional identity. This professional identity is negotiated, developed, and communicated to support an emerging professional being seen as possessing some level of competence in the field and as aligning with the prominent beliefs, values, and attitudes of the profession. Using a phenomenological approach, a narrative description of this phenomenon was created from an analysis of 12 participant interviews (an initial and a follow-up conversation with each of the 6 participants) and a review of participants’ ‘About Me’ statements posted on a professional website. Participants described tacit knowledge as a cognitive process akin to learning the language of the field that contributed to their identity-work. This tacit knowledge that formed their professional identity integrated the explicit knowledge gained from informal interactions and formal professional development opportunities in the CoP. Participants further described this tacit knowledge as demands of the field that impacted their current work and future goals, including the need for active, reciprocal, engagement with the CoP. They also identified disconnect between the CoP’s expressed values of inclusion and some practices that demonstrate existence of a more inequitable pathway to acceptance. Overall, this study adds substantively to the body of research exploring the development of a professional identity for emerging professionals in student affairs. In particular, it contributes a more fulsome understanding of the development of a professional identity as a process situated within a CoP, nested amongst increasingly impermeable spheres of influence, communally negotiated and communicated, and yet, personally defined, re-negotiated, and documented.