Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education Policy, Planning, and Administration

Committee Chairperson

Orkideh Mohajeri, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jacqueline Hodes, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Matthew Kruger-Ross, Ph.D.


The physical environment of the college union building has the potential to influence a student’s sense of belonging. Using a conceptual framework that included campus ecology framework (Strange & Banning, 2001) and sense of belonging theory (Strayhorn, 2019), this study explored undergraduate student experiences of belongingness in the college union. Particularly, this study focused on a college union located on the campus of a public, regional university in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Further, this study aimed to explore the variety of ways that the union’s physical space does (or does not) influence sense of belonging for a diverse sampling of undergraduate students. Eight undergraduate college students were invited to participate in two interviews, including a photo-elicitation activity. The first interview established the participants’ relationship with the college union building and their understanding of sense of belonging. The second interview began with a photo-elicitation activity that asked participants to capture images of areas in the college union where they did and did not feel belonging. Data analysis revealed that spatial elements such as lighting, murals, photography, and signage enhanced belonging. The findings also indicated that comfortable and mobile furnishings advanced sense of belonging. Additionally, spaces that were well-kept sent positive non-verbal messages to students. Finally, the data indicated that other non-spatial elements, including food, busyness, and involvement, also contributed to students’ sense of belonging. Therefore, spaces that incorporated the elements described above had a greater chance of fostering a sense of belonging for students.