Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Jane Jensen


U.S. colleges must increasingly respond to a wide range of complex forces and simultaneously fulfill their missions and support students. To address many of these forces, some have turned to internationalization efforts like recruiting and enrolling international students. In light of these efforts, critics have called for institutions to better, more appropriately support these students, given their challenges and needs. This call has amplified during the recent COVID-19 global health pandemic.

Traditional student support services tend to center around Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure. Examples of support programming are frequently shared, yet rarely detail how institutional staff actually perform them through everyday work within the institution as a complex organization. This study addresses these critiques by drawing upon alternative lenses to explore how spatiality contributes to how staff work to produce a new international student orientation event, as form of student service. To do so, this dissertation utilizes concepts of relational space, spatiality, and events, which situate orientation work as a network of diverse social and material relations.

A mini-ethnographic case study permitted the tracing of different sociomaterial relations between several staff members and the objects with which they interacted at Southeastern Urban University. Following observations, participant interviews, and artifact review, several central, material actors shaped staff work practices within the orientation-network: U.S. immigration policy, institutional policy, technologies-in-use, uncertainty, and risk. Analysis revealed that the pre-COVID-19 orientation-network remained stable over time, due to the power and agency of certain actors to hold it together. The fall 2020 orientation-network was disrupted, though still yielded an event, due to fluid actors and staff improvisation.

Findings suggest that the event during the pandemic required a unique assemblage of people and materials, much due to a constant presence of uncertainty and risk. Staff adapted work practices to maintain their ability to produce the orientation. With these findings, this study offers recommendations that challenge dominant notions of space, materials, and other actors as possessing inherent qualities. Utilizing a relational view of practices like orienting, as consisting of messy actor-networks offers a way of opening up student support services and (re)imaging how they could transform to enable U.S. colleges to fulfill their priorities while optimally serving their students.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)