Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Justin Kevin Young

Q: Where are you from and why did you decide to attend the University of Maryland?

A: I was raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where I completed elementary school, middle school, and the first two years of high school. In my junior year, however, I moved to Maryland, where I attended From the Heart Christian School in Suitland, Maryland. Prior to attending From the Heart, I had no desire or plans to attend college. During my last two years of high school, however, I developed a desire to pursue a post-secondary degree.

My decision to attend the University of Maryland came easy. For one, Maryland has a good reputation, and through members of my church, who were also students and alumni, I learned of Maryland’s stellar academics. Ultimately, I knew that Maryland was academically challenging to its students and that it provided a promising future to its graduates. The second reason that I chose Maryland is because of its convenience to my situation. I had the perfect opportunity, through the Maryland Transfer Advantage Program (MTAP), to seamlessly transition from the College of Southern Maryland to the University of Maryland. In addition, Maryland is close to home, so as a commuter, I can keep in touch with family and stay active in my church. These were the determining factors in my decision to attend Maryland.

Q: Why did you decide to major in Sociology? What are your specific interests within Sociology?

A: In my freshman year of college, I originally planned to major in Communication studies. Within my first semester, however, I was rerouted after enrolling in Sociology 100. Prior to taking this class, I knew nothing about the discipline, but afterwards, I was convinced that Sociology would be my major. I have always been a fierce observer and studier of phenomena such as norms, social behaviors, speech patterns, subcultures, and the like. It surprised me to find an avenue in college whereby I could cultivate these desires. With regard to my specific sociological interests, I am particularly drawn to urban sociology, and a work that epitomizes urban sociology, in my opinion, is Code of the Street by Elijah Anderson. I admire this book’s simplicity and the ethnographic approach it takes in explaining inner-city life.

Q: What has your experience been like as an undergraduate student in the honors program and having enrolled in graduate-level classes? What will you “take away” from this experience?

A: Since the 11th grade, I have been exposed to rigorous academic curricula. Therefore, challenge and hard work are not new concepts to me, so as I see it, our department’s honors program simply means greater challenges and harder work. One of the greatest delights I have in being an honors student has come from the process of developing an honors thesis. I view this process as a foretaste of graduate school, which leads me to discuss the other advantage of the honors program: It exposes undergraduates to graduate-level courses. My experience in the graduate courses has been phenomenal. The discussion oriented style of graduate courses has aided in exposing me to the knowledge of students, not solely the knowledge of professors. Lectures have undoubtedly had a place in my academic career, but the graduate seminars have been critical in my growth as a student. Both the graduate courses and the honors program have contributed to sharpening my skills in research, hypothesizing, writing, and critical thinking. In a way, the honors program is pushing me out of the nest of the traditional student and molding me into an independent student. Ultimately, it has been integral in bridging the gap between undergraduate school and graduate school.

Q: What are your career plans and goals after you graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland?

A: Upon graduating, my plans are to return to my school, From the Heart Christian School, and to work on staff as a teacher. My desire is to teach high school Bible, but at this point, the specific subject that I will teach has not been made known. My high school has contributed greatly to my spiritual, academic, and natural success, and I feel that it is my responsibility to use what I have learned at From the Heart and in college to reciprocate what my teachers have instilled in me. From the time I was in first grade until now, my focus has primarily been dedicated to self-development; now it is time to focus on the development of others.

Although not in the immediate future, while working as a teacher, I also plan to attend graduate school. My ultimate career goal is to serve as a high school principal, so accordingly, my graduate interests lie in educational leadership. In light of my academic aspirations, the discipline of Sociology, with its broad application, will be a perfect match for educational leadership. Someday, I expect to make use of both of these disciplines to leave an indelible imprint in the next generation.

Q: What does Sociological Imagination mean to you?

A: Every aspect of my life is shaped by the institutions of my country; the historical period that I live in; and the values endorsed in my culture. Essentially, this is my interpretation of C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination, a theory which places my life on a historical continuum, as it is contextualized within a religious, familial, racial, and national structure. The dominant structure that governs my life is my Christian faith. Therefore, as a Christian (a Christ-like one), my self-concept is built on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, from whom I extract my values, norms, and beliefs. Understandably, the major institution that structures my life is the Christian church, which is further contextualized within my country. If I were in another country, perhaps I would be severely persecuted for my beliefs, and if I lived in a different historical period, I could possibly be killed for my beliefs, but since I am a 21st century American, I can practice my faith openly.

Regarding some aspects of my faith, cultural structures have distorted pure Christianity. Doctrines such as materialism and prosperity have developed because America is a wealthy nation, not because God wants everyone to be rich. Segregated churches result from America’s racism, not from Christianity. Portraits of the European Jesus were birthed from Eurocentric scholars, not from the Bible; the list continues. Thus, Sociological Imagination ultimately helps me to distinguish manmade traditions from unadulterated faith; it’s a tool to analyze one’s own self through the lens of historical periods and cultural structures.

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