Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Patrick Ainsworth

Second Advisor

Dr. Len Hightower

Third Advisor

Dr. Marylou Wilson


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore how community college leaders responded to unpredictable events and opportunities that affected their career decisions using the five elements of planned happenstance theory (Mitchell et al., 1999). A second purpose was to understand how California community college leaders perceived that career planning enhanced or hindered their career decision-making. A further purpose was to identify recommendations community college leaders believed will advance the career trajectories of future leaders.

Methodology: This study used a qualitative approach to understand the lived experiences of vice presidents of student services to provide insights to inform the career planning and decision making of future community college leaders. A purposive sample of 13 participants was selected from the target population. Semistructured interviews were conducted using a guide developed by a thematic team with the guidance of faculty. The data collected from the interviews were coded using NVivo software to identify common themes.

Findings: Data analysis resulted in 23 themes in total and 1,848 frequencies across 13 interviews. These themes uncovered eight major findings and two unexpected findings.

Conclusions: This research study revealed leaders responded to unpredictable events and opportunities by trying new things, engaging in learning, practicing adaptability, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, maintaining positivity, and taking risks. This study further uncovered leaders did not engage in career planning until after unexpected opportunities exposed them to a desirable career path, and that career outcomes occurred by happenstance. Participants recommended that future leaders advance their own career trajectories by doing what they love, making ethical decisions, seeking out mentorship, and by saying yes to opportunities.

Recommendations: It is recommended community college districts, human resources departments, professional associations dedicated to leaders, and college presidents develop robust professional development opportunities for future leaders to enhance their skills and learning. It is recommended hands-on experiential learning programs and pilot projects be developed to allow leaders to practice transferable skills, take micro-risks, and step into interim roles to gain experience.