Alum Larsen receives Dissertation of the Year Award from the Council for the Study of Community Colleges

Colleen Larsen’s dissertation, “Dreams beyond Safety: A Critical Qualitative Investigation of the Experiences of Refugee Students at Two-Year Public Colleges in Wisconsin,” has won the Dissertation of the Year Award from the Council for the Study of Community Colleges (CSCC).


Larsen earned her master’s from UW–Madison’s Global Higher Education program in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA) in 2016, and her PhD from ELPA in 2022. Larsen now works as an education director for student success with the Wisconsin Technical College System.

The annual CSCC Richard M. Romano Dissertation of the Year Award honors doctoral students who graduated during the previous calendar year, whose dissertations have explored community college-related topics and exhibited exemplary skills in research and scholarship. 

“I’m humbled to receive this prestigious distinction,” says Larsen. “I believe the award is a testament to the importance of work on refugee education and the need to center student voices in research and practice. I share this honor with all those that supported the creation of this dissertation, especially my advisor, Dr. Xueli Wang, and the study participants, many of whom are already improving educational pipelines on their own by acting as unofficial translators, navigators, mentors, and advocates for other refugees in our communities.”

Larsen’s dissertation uses the experience of 20 refugees that have attended a technical college in Wisconsin to look at the various institutional and individual “supports and barriers that shape refugee college student experiences,” according to her paper’s abstract. These include recognizing the assets refugees bring to college from their communities, culturally competent faculty, staff and peers, learning communities like TRiO and mentoring programs, financial and academic resources, and more.

Larsen adds that, “considering the lack of literature on refugee college experiences in the U.S., future research could build upon this study by further identifying and dismantling structural barriers experienced by refugees who want to attend college but have not yet been able to achieve this goal.”

Read Larsen’s full dissertation.

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