Outstanding dissertation research that contributes to the knowledge of the college union and student activities field is acknowledged through this award. The recipient will receive a reward of $400 in addition to published research in The Bulletin and recognition of peers at the annual conference.

2024 Recipient: Philip Smith, Rutgers University

Phillip R. Smith’s dissertation, “The Struggle is Real: How African American College Students Persist Despite Basic Needs Challenges,” explores how undergraduate students at two urban universities navigated the college environment while experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity, and challenging familial dynamics through semi-structured interviews and campus observations. Themes in the work have already been used to develop a web-based resource hub for students and staff.

Submission deadline is November 15, 2024. Check back soon for submission form link.

Submission materials must include the following:

  1. Name, institution, and contact information for the applicant.
  2. A separate statement from the dissertation committee chair confirming the date of acceptance of the dissertation.
  3. One compiled packet—that is no more than 10 double-spaced typed pages (not including references), and that contains no identifying information to ensure an anonymous review—which addresses:
    • Research rationale and brief literature review.
    • Statement of hypothesis/problem.
    • The methodology employed and rationale for its selection.
    • Significant findings and relevance to student affairs, college unions, student activities, and/or the ACUI research agenda.
    • A brief bibliography, not to exceed two pages.

All materials submitted become the property of ACUI and will not be returned to the applicant. During the review process, applicants may be requested to submit one electronic copy of their entire dissertation with identifying information removed.

The nomination period for this award is no longer open. Check back in 2024 for details on the next nomination period.

The review process includes, but is not limited to, an assessment of the criteria listed below. The submission must:

  • Be the original work of the investigator and not have been reported elsewhere.
  • Demonstrate a quality of writing sufficient that ACUI could publish an article based on the research.
  • Have significance and relevance to college unions, student activities, and/or the ACUI research agenda.
  • Include quality and significant literature cited in support of the research.
  • Have a clearly articulated research design and significance of findings.
  • Identify suitable implications for practice.
  • Result in at least one research-focused article, educational session, or other ACUI resource within 18 months of receiving the award.

Dissertations eligible for this award must:

  • Report a study for which a doctoral degree was granted in the previous year;
  • Be completed by an author who has membership in ACUI and is a doctoral degree recipient presently in, or intending to enter, the profession.

Submissions will receive electronic notification confirming receipt of materials. A confidential panel of judges will conduct an anonymous review of the materials to make the selection based on the criteria identified for this specific award. One physical award will be given to the recipient, who will be recognized during the awards ceremony at the annual conference and in subsequent publications. 

Note: The Dissertation of the Year was named in honor of Daniel M. Maxwell in 2017

  • 2023: Katheryn Paynter, Ph.D., Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi – “An Exploration of Belonging Through Student Union Employment”
  • 2022: Allen Womble, University of Illinois–Chicago – “Everything I Did Was Black. That’s What I Was There For.”: A Critical Grounded Theory of the Development of Student Leaders with Historically Marginalized Identities
  • 2021: Dr. Renae Mantooth, North Carolina State University
  • 2020: Dr. Dorsey Spencer, Jr., Florida State University – ”Like a Unicorn”: A Narrative Inquiry Exploring the Leadership Experiencesof Undergraduate Black Men
  • 2019: Justin Camputaro, Virginia Tech – The Role of College Unions in Developing Students’ Sense of Community  
  • 2018: Lincoln Walburn, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi – The act of becoming a college student: A case study of student veterans’ experiences pre-during-post military service 
  • 2017: Corbin Smyth, University of Minnesota–Duluth – Where All May Meet on Common Ground: Elements of College Unions Evident in Campus Community 
  • 2016: Cindy Kane, University of Nebraska–Lincoln – Finding a Place for Scholarship in Campus Activities  
  • 2015: Leah Barrett, The College at Brockport – The College Union and a Sense of Community for Students in Public Higher Education 
  • 2014: Krista Harrell, University of South Alabama – Green Student Centers’ Influence on the Campus Environment 
  • 2013: Kathy McIntosh, Pepperdine University – The Role of Mentoring in the Identification and Selection of College Student Unions/Activities Careers 
  • 2012: Amy Wilson, University at Buffalo – Transforming the Role of the Leadership Educator: The Relationship between Multicultural Competence and the Use of the Social Change Model of Leadership Development

About Daniel M. Maxwell

Dr. Daniel M. Maxwell’s career path has included multiple functional areas at various institutional types in a typical student affairs/life/services division. A significant part of his career has been directly involved in fraternity/sorority life, student activities, and student unions. In January 2012, Maxwell was appointed as the associate vice chancellor for student affairs for the University of Houston System and associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Houston.

Maxwell served as ACUI president for two terms (2004–06), ACUI Education and Research Fund chair for three years, and on the Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarking Work Group, before joining the Research Program Team. In 2017, Maxwell was appointed as research coordinator and chair of the Research Program Team. His own dissertation, “Student Union Transformation: A Case Study on Creating Purposeful Space,” provided insight on the relationship between physical space and community building on the college campus.

The Dissertation of the Year Award recognizes new research that contributes to the knowledge of the college union and student activities field. In naming the award, Maxwell lifts the ongoing need and dialogue for new research that speaks to the many ways both physical space and the activities hosted in and around student unions supports student success and professional development. In addition, he wishes to honor and acknowledge the individual contributions made in telling the story of the student union through research.

Maxwell holds a B.S. in personnel and industrial relations from Syracuse University, a M.S. Ed. from the University of Miami, and an Ed.D. in education and student affairs from Indiana University. His research interests include campus ecology, creating purposeful space, and post-occupancy evaluations.