The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type




Degree Name

Higher Education Administration: Ed.D.


Educational Administration and Higher Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Rachel Friedensen

Second Advisor

Jennifer Jones

Third Advisor

Emeka Ikegwuonu

Fourth Advisor

Brad Piazza

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Midlevel Managers, Sensemaking, Organizational Change, Transformational Change, Higher Education, Institutional Executives


During institutional change processes, unstructured sensemaking could result in inconsistent outputs across the organization, causing organizations the inability to achieve their intended outcomes. Because of their hierarchical and relational positions within colleges and universities, midlevel managers could be instrumental in stabilizing and aligning the sensemaking of others, which is a prerequisite for transformational change. Historically, midlevel managers have been considered change resistors or change saboteurs. However, what could be perceived as obstructionist behaviors might actually be the result of role ambiguity.

The purpose of my research was to illuminate how midlevel managers made sense of and subsequently enacted their roles within the context of organizational change. Using sensemaking as my theoretical framework, I conducted a single case study to explore how midlevel managers at a two-year postsecondary institution identified cues about their roles, assigned meaning to them, and acted upon them in the context of institutional change. Through in-depth semi-structured interviews with midlevel managers, document review, and direct observation, I uncovered information critical to understanding how midlevel managers understand what is expected of them from various stakeholder groups and how they reconcile these messages to inform action throughout the lifecycle of organizational changes.

The results of this study help college and university executives better position their midlevel managers to serve as effective change agents by designing an environment and providing the resources that support their role sensemaking needs. Promising practices that structure and support midlevel managers’ role sensemaking and enactment and, thus, enhance the outcomes of institutional change are offered.


Postsecondary education changed the trajectory of my life. It transformed me. I feel incredibly fortunate to work in higher education and help other students unlock their potential every day. To now hold the highest degree in this field is surreal, and I am eager to begin the next leg of my journey when I get to make an even bigger impact on colleges and universities across the country.

Without question, the first person I need to thank is Brian Leonard – a man who epitomizes the phrase ‘life partner’ and selflessly sacrificed alongside me to make this accomplishment possible. I have often said that I am possible because of you, and your support over the last three and a half years is no exception to that statement. I could not have done this without you.

Next, I must thank my children. Maxwell and Lillyana, your patience and understanding spans beyond your years. You accepted that mommy had to spend a lot of time in front of her computer to achieve her goal, and you cheered me on every step of the way. I hope that I inspired you to chase after your dreams and modeled hard work and determination. You are both amazing. To Blarney, I miss having you at my feet but know you are always with me in spirit.

Finally, I want to thank my committee: Drs. Rachel Friedensen, Jennifer Jones, Emeka Ikegwuonu, and Brad Piazza. Dr. Friedensen, you guided me through unchartered territories with your characteristic kindness and humility. I appreciate all the gentle nudges to redirect me and keep me motivated. Dr. Jones, you always kept it real, and I will miss our weekly chats full of laughter and sometimes tears. Dr. Emeka, you broadened my perspective and pushed me to think differently. Brad, you have been a great friend, and I hope we continue to find ways to work together.



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