Cope and Grow: A Grounded Theory Approach to Early College Entrants’ Lived Experiences and Changes in a STEM Program

David Yun Dai*, Saiying Steenbergen-Hu, Yehan Zhou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In this grounded theory qualitative study, we interviewed 34 graduates from one cohort of 51 students from a prestigious early college entrance program in China. Based on the interview data, we identified distinct convergent and divergent patterns of lived experiences and changes. We found several dominant themes, including peers’ mutual stimulation for excellence, academic competition, big-fish-little-pond effect, coping with academic challenges, transition to college life, developing intrinsic interests, and making critical career decisions. Based on the thematic analysis, we developed a Cope-and-Grow model of strivings for academic excellence while developing one’s self-identity. Three interrelated claims are made about the unique situation in which early college entrants found themselves, individual differences in coping and growing experiences, and intrapersonal changes over time. Rich connections are made between the Cope-and-Grow model and the extant empirical research and theories, such as aptitude theory, developmental asynchrony theory, and talent development theory. We also discussed the implications of the findings for curricular and instructional adaptation, counseling interventions, and future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-90
Number of pages16
JournalGifted Child Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 9 2015


  • qualitative methodologies
  • social and/or emotional development and adjustment
  • student motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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