America invests large amounts of money in K-12 education to develop its human capital. As such, K-12 student success is vital to the human capital development and future of America's children and adolescents. There is significant concern for the K-12 students who are predictably at risk of not graduating from high school (e.g., low-income, ethnic minority, and first generation college students) let alone qualifying for and enrolling in postsecondary education. Over the past four decades student success has primarily been explained by sociological research on status attainment as well as social capital and cultural capital. However, very little research addresses the relationship between this sociological research and motivation theory from the field of psychology. Specifically, student success research generally neglects describing how social capital and cultural capital become contextually and motivationally relevant for K-12 students. This study explored the pathway of success for students from the following backgrounds: low-income, first generation in college, active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Hispanic, graduated from a Utah high school in 2009 and who were admitted to Brigham Young University the same year as new freshmen. Case study methods were employed initially in phase one of the analysis using a grounded theory or emic paradigm, allowing data and patterns to emerge. In phase two of the analysis, using a post-positivist or etic paradigm data were contrasted with existing research. The findings revealed a new model that explains the conditions of student motivation. While the findings support existing research on the influences of social capital and cultural capital on student success, all students in this study experienced a triggering relationship that caused them to contextualize and assign value to various forms of capital in the past and present and leveraged them towards student success. This contextualization also served as a motivation for students to be successful and to pursue additional forms of capital to assist them on their pathway to success. The implications of this triggering relationship theory can assist parents, educators, and many others who facilitate the human capital development of children and adolescents.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Educational Leadership and Foundations



Date Submitted


Document Type





student success, human capital, social capital, cultural capital, Hispanic, LDS, triggering, relationship, mirror, and motivation