Letter from the Editress (written by Beverly Pratt)

Letter From the Editress

Welcome to Volume 4, Issue 3!  Though this semester is nearly halfway through, it has proven to be quite productive and eventful.  Snowmagedden 2010 – or whatever name you choose to give it – inspired much creativity and efficiency within our sociological community.  Many of the pieces within this newsletter are consequences of our snow-day adventures.

Continuing with the theme of “Imagine,” the newsletter begins and ends with pieces intending to inspire our sociological imaginations – including a piece on academic blogging, a piece from a graduate student’s professional blog, and professors’ book recommendations.  Coinciding with this, graduate students provide second-year paper and summer internship advice.  Five individuals are spotlighted, including:  administrative coordinator Laurie Brown, undergraduate student Justin Young, graduate student Kendra Barber, faculty Dr. Kris Marsh, and alumnus Dr. Tallese Johnson.

Also in this edition are updates on graduate program requirement modifications and the C.W. Mills Graduate Library and Lounge renewal project.

Much gratitude goes to Kathryn Buford (last semester’s editress) and Miriam Moore (last semester’s newsletter designer); these women put together an elegant newsletter in which I’ve been able to replicate quite easily based on their instructions.  Additional thanks go to Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey who assisted my design layout learning curve.

Please enjoy the contributions of our colleagues and feel free to contact me with any comments and/or suggestions that you may have.

Beverly Pratt

To Blog or Not to Blog? (written by Nathan Jurgenson)

“I [wish] to rid myself of a crippling academic prose and to develop an intelligible way of communicating modern social science to non-specialized publics.” – C.W. Mills in a 1944 application for a Guggenheim grant

Many have argued that academia has a crisis of relevance. What impact does our work have on the world at large? Who reads sociology journals? For better or worse, public knowledge is increasingly being pulled from a Google search that typically does not provide content created by academics. It is in light of the (supposed) dilemma about the future relevance of sociology in the world of Google-search-epistemology that I discuss some advantages and disadvantages of academic blogging.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales once quipped that if something is not on Google then it does not exist. Of course, this is partly a joke, but it also highlights the increasing relevance of being indexed (that is, being documented in searchable digital databases). Some insightful research on Facebook has shown that people put themselves online to exist [e.g., .pdf]. If the power of all these opportunities (or obligations?) to produce content online is to create one’s existence, then blogging allows one to create and maintain an intellectual existence within our database society. Because we know that social capital can be gained this way, there are important advantages to academic blogging. Blogging can be used to network, advertise, self-promote and to attach your name to various ideas. Use the Foucauldian union of power and knowledge to your advantage as the world increasingly focuses on one’s online social networks and digitized intellectual profile.

There is much else to be gained from blogging beyond this perhaps overly-strategic job-market view. The crisis of relevance might be eased as sociologists utilize the blogosphere to speak directly to non-academic audiences. Being able to speak to an informed citizen that has no interest in picking up a sociology journal is an important opportunity to enact change or simply stimulate a curious mind. In doing this, one can also create new connections with others with similar interests. However, given this new pulpit, be aware that negative comments are sure to follow. Bloggers have thick skin because they know that disagreements engender more page views (the currency of the online reputation economy).

The very act of writing the blogs can be useful. Blogs are relatively short. They should be interesting. Assume that the reader is skimming with their trigger-finger ready to click away from your post at the moment their increasingly short attention span wanes. By writing for this audience, the blogger is practicing to be more focused, conscience, witty or whatever strategy one employs to garner page views. This begs the point that all of this seems to preclude writing more in-depth, well thought out prose in favor of sensationalist McIdeas. The point is a good one. We might be concerned with a world of blogs only. However, as academics, blogging need only compliment our other work rather than preclude it. In fact, blogging may help in the very act of getting brand new ideas out there – the ones too fresh for the for-real-journal-article. Forcing oneself to put an argument together, however brief, lays the groundwork for the fleshed out ideas one can eventually publish. Last, blogging forces productivity. Bloggers know they need to produce because a dormant blog is of no use. This is helpful for those who have difficulty with self-motivation – but pesky for those who do not have room for this time consuming activity.

It seems that my take on academic blogging has been mostly positive (I didn’t even get into others stealing your yet-unpublished ideas). However, the ways in which blogging will be beneficial and detrimental to academics are still largely unknown. The world we are producing seems to grant ‘the digital’ increasing importance. How we position ourselves in this world of new media technologies is significant because, as sociologists, we know that Friedman is wrong: this world is not flat.

Nathan Jurgenson is a third year PhD student.

‘This is a Movement’: Interview with ‘Aliciafa’ Anabel Santos, co-creator of ‘Afro-Latinos: The Untaught Story’ (written by Kathryn Buford)

The documentary film series Afro-Latinos: The Untaught Story, developed by the independent production company, Creador Pictures, broadens our notions of movements and the experiences of blacks in the Americas. Afro-Latinos brings to fore the history, culture and contemporary challenges facing blacks in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.

Clearly, the team recognized that such an ambitious and important project could only be complimented by an incredible website. Afrolatinos.tv (designed by Magdalena Medio) is the perfect blend of style and substance. There you can learn the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that received the enslaved Africans and from where in Africa they came. Each country the crew visited or plans to visit includes an historical and cultural overview of the African populations there. Also, you can share facts or stories with the team for a given country. You can also learn the personal perspectives of the creators, Renzo Devia, Alicia Anabel Santos, Camilo Mendoza and Leonardo Reales. There are several hours of their very intimate and personal reflections and conversations throughout the filming process.

I am so happy to have had the opportunity to speak with Alicia Anabel Santos, one of the series co-creators regarding the project. Alicia explains that this project represents not only a tribute to African ancestors and their descendants currently living in Latin America and the Caribbean, but a movement.

How did you become involved with the Afro-Latinos project? How did the idea for the project come about?

I became involved in the Afro-Latinos documentary after writing an article published in Urban Latino magazine entitled, “Two Cultures Marching to One Drum,” which honors the contributions of Africans in both the Black and Latino community, our shared history, and define what it means to be Afro-Latino—aiming to unite these two communities. Renzo and I were both on a journey of self-discovery searching for the answers to very specific questions– Why have Latinos rejected their African ancestry? Why are we denying our African roots?” Renzo invited me to join him on this investigation to learn more about Afro-Latinos throughout Latin America.

Let’s talk about the title. The full title of the documentary is Afro-Latinos, The Untaught Story. Why was it important for the project to be titled Afro-Latinos—a term many people criticize or do not take seriously?

The title AFRO-LATINOS is intentionally used to highlight a group of people that have barely been written about. We wanted to tell the untaught story of Afro-Latinos… to take people on a journey as we discover who Afro-Latinos are and how the African influence mixed with Spanish culture has made Latin America what it is today. In countries such as Mexico and Peru the focus has always been on the Indigenous and Spanish contributions in history… what about the African part. It was important for us that this story be told.

Why do you think the experiences and history of Afro-Latinos has received insufficient attention?

There are many reasons why the Afrolatino population has received NO attention. Some of it has to do with race, class, and economy, but mostly it has to do with education. There are many people who do not know where they come from. Countries throughout Latin America aren’t teaching a COMPLETE and INCLUSIVE history. Yet another reason Afro-Latinos are not acknowledged or seen has much to do with the color of their skin. There is a reason why most of these communities are still undeveloped and receive very little resources or economic attention and it has much to do with being black. Discrimination is alive and well throughout Latin America.

Covering a large span of time, the documentary includes a review of enslaved African uprisings. Why was it important to include enslaved African rebellions in the documentary?

We have found that in the history books throughout Latin America people are only being taught a particular version of a story… not the ENTIRE story. Not the TRUTH… there is something missing throughout Latin America a pride in their history and where that history started… most of the versions of history we are taught even in the United States about Latin America, is that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” and that he came and saved us. But we were not taught about the millions of enslaved Africans that were taken against their will and brought to the Caribbean, Central and South America by force or how our people were brutally killed. We were not taught about the many rebellions throughout Latin America where men and women escaped and formed their own communities called Palenque’s… it was important to include these warriors so that afrolatinos understand who they really are and the rich history that lies in their blood.

I think it is great that you and Renzo are very honest and candid when sharing your personal reflections throughout the making of the documentary. You reflected a lot on identity—national, cultural and racial. What have you learned about your own identity? Has working on this project complicated earlier ideas you had about identity, in general?

Renzo and I would both agree that the MAIN gift we have gained throughout this journey is an appreciation of people, culture and differences… about my own identity I wouldn’t say that this discovery has complicated anything… but solidified who I am… I feel more grounded…more proud of my culture… I am still learning what identity means for me—but this journey has certainly brought me closer today than I ever was. I can identify myself as Afro-Latina, Afro-Dominicana, a label and title that I am proud to wear… Not only am I Latina, Dominican, Hispanic but I also share a bloodline with Africa and that only makes my identity stronger.

Race is considered, by some, a political identity. Outside of politics, however, is there any other connection you feel with people of African descent across the African Diaspora? Spiritual or personal, for example?

Besides race and history… the spiritual connection is incredible… religion is what connects us to Africa… our Santa Marta, Yemaya, I think people have a misconception about religions such as vudu or Santeria… some people get frightened believing that these religions are to cause harm when it is the total opposite when you go to a fiesta de palo event… you find that the music and rituals are to connect with the ancestors, to communicate to celebrate life and death… that cycle. My personal connection is not only racial and political but absolutely a spiritual one. This journey has brought us closer to the answers Renzo and I have been searching for…

You say that Haiti was the country that most impacted you. Why?

Haiti was a profound experience for me. Mostly because I wanted to understand and see for myself what the other side of the island that my family is from was like. Haiti needs help. Haiti needs support. We did not visit the tourist areas, which we are told are breathtaking. We decided to stay near Port-au-Prince and learn about everyday life and what we discovered was that Haitians work incredibly hard yet incredibly poor. Renzo and I are looking forward to returning to Haiti and all of the countries we have visited to help DO MORE.

Why is the term African Diaspora important to you? What do you think the term African Diaspora captures that would be lost if we simply used terminology like “black populations in different countries,” for example?

The term African Diaspora is very important because it includes the descendants of Africans who were dispersed throughout the world. Using terms like “black population” puts people in a small group… it’s limiting and isolates a group of people. African Diaspora groups us with a larger more inclusive group and honors where we all come from.

What are examples of the changes you would like to see people working towards to improve the life changes of people of African descent in Latin America?

Renzo and I have discussed in great detail the importance of INDIVIDUAL involvement not just government agencies sending money, but regular people like you and I going into these communities and seeing for themselves what is needed and then they can determine what resources they can provide to assist us… we would like to see more people going to visit these countries and donating their TIME, teaching students skills, bringing educational resources, computers and books. Go see how your money is being used! If you own a construction company send family and friends to communities like… Haiti and the Dominican Republic to help build schools…

Finally, what does activism mean to you? Would you consider this an activist project? Would you consider yourself an activist?

Activist to me means fighting for the rights of those who don’t know how to or are afraid to fight for themselves… to me it means being ACTIVE – – doing something… working with others towards change and for the greater good. Is this an activist project—ABSOLUTELY… but we see our selves as recruiters… Renzo and I need more people joining us to help these communities.

Anything else you want to share…

Lastly, I would add that THIS IS A MOVEMENT… the Afro-Latino’s documentary is a call to service. We are asking people to join us as we work towards educating and helping these communities. Please visit us at www.afrolatinos.tv.

After reading Alicia’s last comment, I considered e-mailing her to ask for clarification about what it means to “do more.” Now, however, I think this is something we should decide for ourselves. I’m reminded of poet Antonio Machado’s words: “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.” This line roughly translates to, “Traveler, there is no path; you make the path by walking.” No one can tell you the form your activism can take and no one can decide for you what activism isn’t.

The Afro-Latinos project shows that the challenges facing people of African descent across the world is global in scope, with a long and complex history.

Kathryn Buford is a second year PhD student.

C. Wright Mill’s Receives a Facelift (written by Marek Posard)

As the new GSF C. Wright Mill’s Lounge representative, I am happy to announce recent improvements to our department’s communal space. The project was planned with two goals in mind. First, the lounge would become an aesthetically inviting space that promotes department discourse, professionalism, and community. Second, the space would possess the flexibility to change with the needs of our department. Major renovations were completed in January 2010 with the goal of having lounge décor plans completed by May 2010.  To date, the project is under budget and ahead of schedule.

The first stage of the project consisted of removing the wall-mounted shelving units, re-painting the walls, and cleaning the space. With the help of numerous doctoral students, these major renovations were completed by the beginning of the spring semester. Specifically regarding this phase, a special thank you goes to Beverly Pratt for coordinating; Dr. Lengermann, Nathan Jurgenson, and PJ Rey for de-shelving; and Molly Clever, Crosby Hipes, Joanna Kling, Lori Reeder, and Joe Waggle for painting.

After we removed the shelves and cleaned the space, GSF purchased discounted furniture from Terrapin Trader – the University of Maryland surplus property operation.  Specifically, GSF purchased a large study table and a kitchen storage unit.  Gerry Todd graciously donated four matching chairs for our study table too.

In addition, we are in the process of installing a second computer workstation, a television, and a PlayStation 2 with the capability to read DVD discs.  Lastly, tentative plans are in place to install a new, full-sized refrigerator.  I am also working on forging a relationship with the Department of Art so their undergraduate students can display their artwork in our lounge each semester.

These are only a few small steps towards the end goal of creating a more inviting and professional lounge. I look forward to hearing your input as we move forward in transforming the C. Wright Mills lounge together!

Marek Posard is a first year PhD student.

Changes to the Maryland Sociology Graduate Program (written by Kathleen Denny)

The Maryland Sociology Graduate Program has been making some exciting changes to graduate program requirements in the last year.  In addition to writing a 2nd Year Paper rather than a Master’s Thesis, pre-candidacy students now have the option to construct an alternative specialty exam, as well as take an additional research methods course in lieu of an advanced statistics course.  A dissertation proposal timeline has also been established to help expedite students’ time to degree.  I briefly describe each of these four changes below.

#1) 2nd Year Paper:  Rather than writing a Master’s Thesis supervised by a multi-person committee, students write a 2nd Year Paper supervised by one faculty member advisor and one faculty member reader.  Although students are not required to give an oral defense of their 2nd Year Paper, the final paper, intended to be in the form and style of a peer-reviewed journal article, must meet the approval of the student’s advisor and reader.  Final approved 2nd Year Papers are due to the graduate office by the beginning of April each academic year.  From a student’s perspective, transitioning from a Thesis to a 2nd Year Paper model has two major advantages: a) it likely expedites time to completion; and b) the final product may lead to a student’s first publication in a peer-reviewed journal.  Last year (AY 2008-2009) was the first year that students completed 2nd year papers.

#2) Alternative Specialty Exam:  As of fall 2009, graduate students now have the option to construct an alternative specialty exam – allowing students to draw on faculty members’ areas of expertise – in order to satisfy one of the two comprehensive examination requirements.  Students may only sit for one alternative exam – the second exam requirement must be satisfied by taking the standard two-day written exam in an established specialty area.  The alternative specialty exam option is designed for students whose specialty interests do not fit within one of the eight currently established specialty areas.  Therefore, the alternative exam cannot have the same label of one of the sub-specialty areas; for example, since group processes is a sub-area of social psychology, an alternative exam focusing on group processes will not be approved.  Students electing to take an alternative exam must solicit three faculty members whose research interests align with the student’s sub-specialty.  The student and faculty committee then cooperatively define the substantive coverage for the exam, as well as design the format the exam will take.  Examples of exam formats include, but are not limited to, a take-home exam or a research proposal incorporating an extensive literature review.  They must be completed prior to the beginning of the student’s fourth year.   The alternative exam is NOT a requirement.  Students may still elect to take both comprehensive examinations in established specialty areas under the standard system.

#3) Methods Requirement:  In response to a student-led petition submitted to the graduate office in May 2009, the graduate program has revised its statistics and methods requirements for graduate students.  Prior to the 2009-2010 academic year, graduate students were required to take SOCY601, SOCY602, and an advanced statistics course, as well as two courses in research methodology.  As of August 2009, graduate students may now replace their advanced statistics requirement with an additional research methodology course upon approval from the student’s advisor.  This change was motivated primarily by a desire among students whose research is more qualitatively-oriented to receive additional training in qualitative research methods.  Once again, this is NOT a requirement.  Students, particularly students whose research is quantitatively-oriented, may still elect to take the advanced statistics requirement as laid out in the original requirements.

#4) In an effort to speed up time to degree, the department passed an expectation that students will defend their dissertation proposal by the end of the school year following the year that they pass their comprehensive exams.  For example, if students take and pass their comprehensive exams in the fall semester of 2009 and/or spring semester 2010, they are expected to defend their dissertation proposals by the end of the spring semester of 2011.

Kathleen Denny is a second year PhD student.

The Second-Year Paper Experience – with a bit of advice… (written by Heather Marsh)

Sitting down to think about what advice I have for those currently writing their second-year papers is difficult.  The first thing that comes to mind is: write!  Just sit down to write something and hopefully, that something will become your second-year paper.  But wait, what is more important than writing is planning: the planning process will push you along when you sit down to write; that is the difference between having words on a page and having the words on a page become a string of ideas and a well-crafted argument.

For those second-years who are writing, come up with a schedule and set your own deadlines; enroll your advisor into your timetable and have him/her keep you on task.  This is when good communication between you and your advisor is necessary; if you are having trouble making progress, then you need to talk to your advisor to figure out a plan that enables you to finish.  In addition, keep in touch with the reader; make sure the reader knows where you are and when you think you’ll be sending along a draft for review.

If possible, try to have a topic in mind before the end of your first-year so you can have time during the summer to collect data.  I had a topic in mind before the end of my first-year, giving me the summer to collect data (which for me, meant going to Greensburg, Kansas, and conducting participant observation and interviews).  While every topic differs, those considering a qualitative project should try to use the summer for data collection.

For first-years who are wondering about their topics, it is okay to take a while to figure it out.  But just having an idea is not enough.  You need to figure out exactly how you are going to approach it.  This is when you need to start thinking methodologically; the idea needs to be something that you can turn into an actionable plan.  Most students seem to know whether they’ll do a quantitative or a qualitative project (or even mixed-methods), but what else?  Have you looked into content and discourse analysis?  Grounded theory?

You may not have the methods training needed to carry out your ideas.  This is one of the biggest problems encountered by members of my cohort (the first cohort to do the second-year paper).  In some cases, you may have to teach yourself these methods and if so, then that needs to be factored into your timeline.  Explore your options: maybe it makes sense to do an Independent Study with your advisor or take a class outside the Sociology Department to expand your methodological skills base.

Once you have an idea, start with an actionable plan and come up with a timeline (which includes considering any additional methodological training).  The next step is to meet with your advisor and reader and talk to them about their expectations (and your own) for this paper.  While the requirement is to have a “publishable paper,” make sure you understand what this means from your advisor’s (and reader’s) point of view.  This seems to vary considerably among department faculty.

A problem that students have run into is ambiguous standards about what “publishable paper” means.  While some advisors expected students to have a working paper that has the potential to be published, some advisors expected a paper that was ready to be “published.”  Do not let conflicting expectations put you at odds with your advisor at the last minute.  Part of this process is communicating with your advisor and working out the terms of the project.  Remember that the second-year paper process is a new one for your advisor too.

Remember that this is your project; while some students do not find the process valuable or worthwhile, others embark on a project that will inform the work he/she does for the dissertation.  In my case, the second-year paper project is the foundation for my dissertation.  Regardless of your opinion on this “hurdle,” take ownership of the project, have open (and frequent) communication with your advisor, and assess your methodological training early (to figure out what you need to move your project along).

In addition to talking to your advisor, talk to others who have already been through the process.  This becomes invaluable not only as you think about and through your second-year paper, but also when it comes to comps and your dissertation.  One of things I’ve found is that students who are further along in the program are great resources that can help make milestones, such as the second-year paper, more manageable and lastly, more doable.

Heather Marsh is a third year PhD student.

Summer Internship Experiences (written by Megan Benetsky & Valerie Chepp)

– by Megan Benetsky (a second year PhD student)

Last summer I was fortunate enough to intern at the U.S. Census Bureau. As a quantitative researcher, I need public use data provided by the Census Bureau for my papers. The opportunity to see the construction of surveys, to attend budget meetings, learn how data is edited, etc. has not only made me appreciate all of the work that goes into making these data public, but has also allowed me to think about the data in a new way. Getting to know coworkers in various branches has made me more familiar with several datasets and their collection techniques, variables, and also the overall possibilities and limitations of these surveys. This has already benefited my papers for seminars and has given me ideas for future research.

I worked on the reengineered Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). My main job was to test a new computer-adaptive interviewing instrument and also able to help my coworkers think of research ideas using the SIPP. I had great support from my branch chief who encouraged me to work on a publishable paper using the SIPP during my graduate career and beyond.

My biggest piece of advice to those of you thinking about an internship at the Census would be to get your applications in as soon as possible. The Census seems to be very welcoming towards graduate students from Maryland, so take advantage of this! Be sure to put your areas of specialty in your application, as my offers came from branches that clearly aligned with my interests. It will make your summer more enjoyable to be working on something you find appealing and may even inspire future research projects.

Whether you do qualitative or quantitative research, I’d recommend applying for a Census internship. It’s a great experience with great pay, and you’re sure to see a familiar sociology face there!

– by Valerie Chepp (a third year PhD student)

I didn’t come up with the clever expression that serves as the title to this article, but the phrase perfectly captures my experience of landing an internship last summer, and it functions as a guiding light for any advice I may offer my fellow grad students in search of their own summer internship.

At face value, the summer internship position I was offered last April at the National Center for Health Statistics was pure luck. It was about this time last year, I was sitting in the Socy computer lab – no one else was there – trying to set up interviews with college students for a class project. At the time, I was taking a qualitative methods course that focused almost exclusively on in-depth interviewing. As I’m working, in walks Brian Ward, fellow graduate student, friendly colleague, but someone with whom I had had very few one-on-one conversations. Brian and I get to talking, he tells me about his dissertation work, I tell him about my interviewing class, he tells me that NCHS is looking for researchers with interviewing experience. Another friendly Socy grad, Heather Ridolfo, works at NCHS. Would he like for me to have her pass along my information to her supervisor? Now, remember, it’s mid-February and I’m already beginning to feel the weight of the semester’s work bearing down on my shoulders: an interviewing project, three courses, my second year paper, my research assistantship…  at that moment, a summer job didn’t seem very urgent. But, Brian is so nice that I think I said “yes” because, well, I don’t know why… I think I agreed because he’s just so nice!

I continue to be utterly un-proactive. *Luckily* Heather follows up and asks about my interest. I passively go through the motions, yes I’m interested, who do I contact, how many hours would it be, etc. So far, it probably sounds like sheer luck that I ever scored this job, right? Wrong. I contact the NCHS supervisor. *Luckily* I’m already in a position to talk up my research experience, as I’ve had several qualitative methods courses and I’m in the process of conducing interviews with college students. *Luckily* my resume is already good to go… I keep it updated on a regular basis. I make time to meet with the supervisor, I come prepared to discuss my past work experience and its relevancy for NCHS. At the interview, I was floored. I loved this place! I can’t believe I was so lackluster about it! I follow up, prepared to express my interest and reiterate why I’m a good fit for the position. Within months, I was *luckily* working at NCHS.

Obviously, some luck was involved in getting my summer internship. But I was also well-prepared to capitalize on my luck. Below are a few lessons I learned from this experience about how luck favors the prepared:

#1) Have your resume updated. I didn’t have take time during the middle of my busy semester to polish up my resume… that helped make the whole process very smooth and easy.
#2) Get comfortable talking about your skills and past experience. By this time, we’re all really qualified people that have completed many methods courses, research projects, numerous reports and original manuscripts, and various professional and leadership positions. Become familiar with all your qualifications and be prepared to talk about these with ease.
#3) Put the word out you’re looking.
#4) In order to accomplish #3, you absolutely must follow lesson #4: talk to people! Just talk to them. Even if it’s someone you don’t know well, strike up a conversation. Brian and I didn’t know each other very well – we were just making small talk in the computer lab, sharing info about our work. From that simple conversation I learned about this great internship.
#5) Follow ALL leads, even if you think something is less than ideal or you think you have secured an alternative position. I almost didn’t pursue the internship at NCHS because I thought I would be spending the summer tutoring kids in my neighborhood. I ultimately went with the NCHS position and, good thing. One month after accepting the position, I learn the tutoring center was shutting its doors. Had I not pursued the opportunity at NCHS, I would have been without a summer job.

Ok, that’s all I got.  Good *luck*!

Staff Spotlight: Laurie Brown (written by Dave Strohecker)

As a first year graduate student, I often have questions regarding department policies, how to perform mundane tasks like operating the copier or fax machine, and generally how to navigate the labyrinth that is the Art-Socy building. And whenever I encounter these issues, whether big or small, I know where to turn. I turn to Laurie Brown.

You may have seen her sitting towards the back of the front office, behind Gerry and Dhanashree. Somehow, I always seem to bypass everyone else and go straight to her. And she never lets me down.

Recently I played a quick game of question-and-answer with Laurie to get to know her better. I hope this short piece allows you all to catch a glimpse of the woman we know and love. Here are Laurie’s answers:

Dave: What is your “official” position in the department?

Laurie: My official position is Coordinator for the Chair.

Dave: What exactly does this mean?

Laurie: This job has various administrative responsibilities. Some of them are include assisting with the planning and implementation of events that the department has throughout the year, arranging for the travel of guest and job candidates, assisting with the appointment and tenure process of sociology faculty, supervising the student workers in the main office, working with the chair to execute his or her agenda, and assisting with the scheduling of classes.

Dave: How long have you worked for the University of Maryland?

Laurie: I have worked at the University for 5 years, including my previous position within the Aerospace Engineering Department.

Dave: What did you do for the Aerospace Engineering Department?

Laurie: While in the Aerospace Engineering department, I worked closing with the graduate director with the recruiting and admission of graduate students into the program.

Dave: Where did you grow up? Do you have any siblings?

Laurie: I grew up in Prince George’s County, MD and I have two older brothers and two younger step siblings.

Dave: What’s it like living so close to home?

Laurie: It is very convenient to live this close to where I grew up because the majority of my family is still in the area.

Dave: What are 5 things to do, that makes you happier than a calm?

Laurie: Reading a good book; attending church service; laughing with friends; eating a great slice of cheesecake; coming home from work on a Friday afternoon!

Which are better, cats or dogs? Why?

Laurie: I like them both, however, I have always had cats because they are more self sufficient and don’t need walking in the early morning hours on a cold day!

Dave: Five favorite movies of all time. GO!

Laurie: Sound of Music; The Man Who Knew Too Much; Passion of the Christ; Sense and Sensibility; Why Did I Get Married

Dave: What sorta music do you like? What sorta music do you dislike?

Laurie: I like contemporary Christian, soft rock, and old school R&B. I dislike any kind of music that has vulgar language.

Dave: What is your favorite part about working for the University of Maryland?

Laurie: I love the fact that faculty and staff also get a long winter and spring break!

Dave: Finally, tell me one thing that nobody in our department knows about you.

Laurie: I hate having a disorganized desk. At the end of the day, I always make sure that things are in order.

Laurie Brown is the Administrative Coordinator for the department.

Dave Strohecker is a first year PhD student.

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.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Kendra Barber

Q: Where are you from and what was your high school experience?

A: I’m from Brooklyn, NY. I know, I don’t sound like I’m from NY, which I like because I actually don’t like NY accents very much. I prefer the slight (or sometimes not so slight) NC accent I picked up in undergrad. I don’t really know why I never picked up a NY accent. Maybe it’s because neither of my parents are from NY. My mom’s from North Carolina and my dad’s from Belize…maybe that’s why it was so easy for me to pick up a NC accent.

I went to public school in Brooklyn up until high school. For high school I went to school in Darien, CT through the A Better Chance program. ABC is a national organization that provides academically gifted, but economically disadvantaged, youth of color with the opportunity to attend better schools than they would normally have the opportunity to attend. First you apply to ABC and then you apply to a school in the ABC program. You can go to a private day school, a boarding school, or a public school that is like boarding school. I did the latter. So at 13 I left my parents and Brooklyn to go to school in Darien, CT. Darien H.S. was a public school and in order to attend that school you have to live in that town. This public high school was comparable to many private schools in NY. I moved into a house with 6 other girls and a couple who were the resident directors. They also had a son who was like the little brother I never wanted. To understand what it was like living in this house imagine the Real World but without cameras. With 6 teenage girls and authority figures who aren’t your parents there was certainly drama. But there were also lots of fun times. On top of this going to school in Darien was a complete culture shock. I went from Brooklyn, NY where I was used to being surrounded by people that looked like me to Darien, CT where I was reminded every single day that the only time I would be around people that looked like me was when I went back to the ABC house.  Every time I walked around town I was stared at; when I went into the drug store I was followed. Why? Because there are hardly any black families in Darien. When I was there the only black students were the people I lived with. The entire student body was white with the exception of a handful of Asian students. Every single faculty member was white. Furthermore, Darien is an incredibly rich town. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered privilege the way I did in Darien. People had so many stereotypes about those of us in the program and where we came from. Having grown up in the projects I can’t tell you how offensive it was for me to see things like the girl’s swim team have a “ghetto day” when they had a swim meet and dress up in wife beaters, sweats with one leg rolled up, big hoop earrings, and bandanas.  Or to hear someone say “meet me in the ghetto.” It was as if they were amused by something that was a reality for me when I went home.  Then in classes I was always the representative of black people, I had to be the walking black encyclopedia.

One day I decided that I was tired of the individual level education. I was also tired of each February going by with absolutely no acknowledgment that it was Black History Month. The one exception was the school librarian who remained my ally the entire time I was there. I think I reached the point of “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” as Fannie Lou Hamer once said. I was frustrated and I wanted to do something big. I wanted a platform where I could reach as many students and teachers as possible. With the help of the librarian and a committee of students I organized Darien High School’s first black history assembly my senior year. At the time I had no idea that it was going to be something that would be continued. I just wanted to bring to light those things that I felt our curriculum was missing. As it turns out the assembly has been repeated each year since I graduated in 2003.

One of the highlights of my high school experience was my host family. Each of us as assigned a host family that we spent one weekend a month with and a back up host family that we spent one Sunday a month with. Our host families lived in Darien and had children that were in the high school. My host family literally became my second family and they are until this day. Any major event that I’ve had they’ve been right there next to my biological parents.

Q: Where did you attend undergrad and why did you attend this school?  What was your major and why did you decide to major in this?  Please expand.

A: I attended undergrad at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I applied to a number of schools on the east coast but I really wanted to go to school in the south. At the time my top choices were UNC and Duke (shhhh, don’t tell anyone!). My host parents from Connecticut took me to visit both UNC and Duke. I ended up visiting UNC a number of times because my host brother was there playing football. His father also went to UNC, so needless to say that really wanted me to go to UNC even though they didn’t pressure me about it. (My sophomore year at UNC they actually moved to Chapel Hill.) Each time I visited UNC I loved it even more. The campus was beautiful and everything about North Carolina was so different from New York. People greeted you for no reason, everything was slower (which could at times drive me crazy), and best of all there was sweet tea! As it turns out UNC accepted me but Duke didn’t. I like to think that Dook missed out. I’m actually really glad I went to UNC and wouldn’t have it any other way.

While at UNC I double majored in Afro-American Studies and Sociology. I declared Afro-American Studies as my major my freshman year. I declared that major because based on my high school experience and the Black History Assembly that I did, I knew that I wanted my future to involve educating people about the lives and history of African Americans. There is so much that gets left out of our history curriculum and I wanted to do something about that—I still do.

It wasn’t until after I returned from studying abroad in Ghana the spring of my sophomore year that I took my first sociology course.  It was a huge Intro Sociology lecture and I loved it. It seemed to give me a vocabulary to describe the disparities I saw between the public schools in Brooklyn, NY and Darien, CT, and on a global scale those that I saw in Ghana. So I decided to declare sociology as my second major.

Q: Why did you decide to attend graduate school in Sociology?  Why did you decide to attend the University of Maryland, specifically?   Why did you decide to go straight through to graduate school from undergrad?

A: To be honest I didn’t originally intend to go to graduate school for Sociology.  I really wanted to get my PhD in African American Studies.  But since African American Studies is so interdisciplinary I would have pursued a sociology track anyway. I decided that I would apply to a range of graduate programs—MA programs in African American Studies and Sociology of Education, and PhD programs in African American Studies and Sociology. I applied to Maryland because I was interested in educational inequalities and Maryland had 2 people (at the time) who specialized in soc of ed. In the end I decided that I wanted to enroll in a PhD program because of funding and I wanted to just go straight through. So I enrolled in Maryland because of my research interests and the funding.

Part of the reason I decided to go straight through to graduate school was because of a summer research program for minority students that I did the summer of my junior year at UNC. One of my professors suggested I apply. That was my first experience doing independent research and I liked it a lot. So the summer research program kind of made me feel like “ok, you can do this.” After that I don’t think I ever considered taking a break between undergrad and grad school. Plus I was afraid of working after undergrad and somehow losing sight of my eventual goal of a PhD.

Q: What are your research and goals?  What motivates these interests and goals?

A: My research is on religion. The broad question that guides my research interests is: what are black churches doing today to help bring about social change? Many of us are used to the images of various religious leaders in the black community participating in the mass protests of the Civil Rights Movement against a very overt form of discrimination. What are churches doing today? Has that activism taken other forms? What are the issues churches organize around? How do black churches aid black communities? Whether it’s afterschool programs I studied in my honors thesis that were supplementing an inadequate public school education or building affordable housing for their community.

My research interest in black churches stems from my own upbringing in a black Baptist church. While they are not perfect (what institution is?), I feel that black churches are some of the few autonomous institutions in black communities (assuming they’re not accepting federal funding) and I also feel that they are some of the most resource rich institutions in black communities—particularly black mega-churches. So I haven’t given up on black churches, in fact I expect more from them.

Q: What does the “sociological imagination” mean to you and how does it influence your daily work – as a student, teacher, and researcher?

A: This is funny since I just taught my students this. For me it means questioning that which we take for granted, taking a step back to view things macroscopically, seeing how things are connected, understanding how history and social contexts can create particular problems. A sociological imagination encourages critical thinking about the world around you. So as a student and researcher I hope that I bring that level of critical thinking to my work. As a teacher I want to impart to my students the importance of a sociological imagination and that they should question everything around them never accepting “that’s just the way it is.” For me, I also think the sociological imagination encourages us to look at things and see how they can be better. So, I think it has social justice implications.

Faculty Spotlight: Kris Marsh (written by Beverly Pratt)

During my two years as a graduate student at UMD, I have been lucky enough to TA for Dr. Kris Marsh.  Kris and I both were new to UMD in 2008 and I clearly remember the first time she took me for coffee to get to know each other.  As a graduate student in a brand new environment, I quickly clung to Kris for support, wisdom, and encouragement as graduate school and its quirks were fresh on her mind.

To avoid sappiness, I will just say that it has been a pleasure to TA for Dr. Kris Marsh these past two years.  I have learned A LOT, have been treated with sincere respect and care, and have consistently been rejuvenated and inspired by her research and teaching efforts and energy.

Kris and I sat down last week so I could pick her brain on her educational background, her thoughts on the sociological imagination and intellectual maturity, and she even shared some of her hobbies and interests.  Enjoy!

Kris Marsh grew up in the San Fernando Valley – the suburbs of Los Angeles – and, yes, would be considered a “valley girl.”  Her and her family lived in a predominately White area, as they were the only Black family in their community.  Her experiences – both as a resident and as an observer – within Los Angeles’ suburbs ignited her strong interests in racial residential segregation.

Kris attended San Diego State University – two hours away from her home – for her Bachelor’s degree.  After graduating, she returned to Los Angeles, worked in her family’s business during the day, and attended night classes at Cal State University in order to complete her Master’s degree in Sociology, focusing in demography.  She then attended the University of Southern California (USC) for her PhD.  She attended USC to continue her pursuit of demography and to work with a specific demographer focusing on racial residential segregation.

Upon completion of her PhD, Kris attended the University of North Carolina for her postdoc.  Her transition to UNC and to a postdoc was by far the most significant one.  Outside of the fact that she was on the opposite coast of her hometown and family, the postdoc experience was significantly different from her graduate career.  For example, Kris was in complete control of her schedule, as her time was composed of just her and her research with no obligations, time frames, and deadlines.  Kris had to be extremely disciplined, since professors and mentors weren’t around with checklists, timeframes, and deadlines.  Her postdoc was a specific amount of time – two years – so she had to make every moment count.

This intense experience gave Kris the opportunity to contemplate her desired niche – how she wanted to exclaim her voice – within Sociology; time she didn’t necessarily have while in graduate school.  It also gave her time without having any teaching and committee responsibilities.  That said, Kris highly recommends a two-year postdoctoral research experience (a one-year experience is also substantial, but there is less time to both produce and to plan intellectual pursuits).

Kris advice to graduate students is as follows: don’t get too caught up with deadlines and time frames.  Think about what you want to say and what mark you want to leave within the discipline.  Sometimes it’s easy for us to pick-up projects that aren’t sentimental to us.  This isn’t bad, but at some point we as Sociologists need to decide what gives us life and what we want to be known for within the field.  What gives us life, however, is a constantly evolving mark.

As far as the evolution of Kris’ research, she remains interested in racial residential segregation.  In particular she intends to sociologically understand the consequences of being both Black and middle class – both the social and the social psychological consequences.  That said, Kris’ research is increasingly influenced by social psychology and is focusing on Black middle class adults.  She is also interested understanding the experiences of Black middle class adolescents who grow up in predominately White areas.  Particularly, she wants to understand the long-term consequences of their environment including educational aspirations, career goals, and intergenerational transference of wealth.

Kris also remains interested in mental health, specifically depression – i.e., well being as opposed to clinical depression – as a result of racism, discrimination, classism, sexism, etcetera.

The sociological imagination is something that Sociologists can never turn off as it is ever present in what we say, do, and where we go.  Kris can’t watch films without stimulating her sociological imagination.  And she can’t visit church, work out at the gym, or have conversations with friends without her sociological imagination framing her perspectives.  This isn’t a negative thing, according to Kris, as we constantly try to understand the social institutions within which we live, especially the dynamics between race, class, gender, age, sexuality, etcetera.  She does joke, however, that sometimes it would be nice to go somewhere without her sociological imagination – like watch a football game or attend a yoga class.  But she has learned to embrace the constant companionship of her sociological imagination.

Kris has clear and specific thoughts and guidance regarding intellectual maturation.  At some point along a students intellectual maturation process there will be a “changing of the guards”; the one-time student will become the professor.  This full-circle role-switch is a good thing, as it allows the one-time student to “pay it forward” by assisting and guiding other students.

Graduate students may at first lean heavily on faculty; however, at some point it becomes about the student, the student’s research, and what the student wants to contribute.  Though graduate students will always be at the mentored throughout their schooling, this intellectual maturation process allows them to grow confidence in their sociological abilities.  Once confidence begins to strengthen via coursework and deadlines, the student will eventually attain, develop, and then project their voice.  At the beginning of graduate school, students are unaware of their voice.  At the end of graduate school, students have a command of their voice.  It’s a process that takes time – a lot of time.  And the student will become more resolved and resilient throughout the process.

As far as life outside of campus, Kris is an avid swimmer.  She jokes that people often comment on how well she swims, but she is unsure whether their comments are motivated because she is a Black female who swims or that she is actually a decent simmer.  For example, she recently joined a gym in Bowie, MD.  One morning she prepared for a swim, with her goggles and cap, and was about to dive into the deep eind with the lifeguard approached her and asked if she could actually swim.  Immediately her sociological imagination kicked in and questioned the motives of the lifeguard.

In addition to swimming, Kris does yoga and intends to run the Chicago marathon in October 2010.  In her spare time she reads a lot of non-fiction.  Most recently she read Jeffery Toobin’s The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle: A Memoir.  Lately she has also enjoyed science fiction novels by Octavia E. Butler, one of the only Black female science fiction writers.

A couple of other random facts about Kris are:  she loves Indian food and she intends to purchase a pug and name him/her “Seven” in order to immortalize 2007, as it was a good, good year for her (the year she received her acceptance at the University of Maryland).

Much thanks to Kris sharing so much with us!  You can find Kris in her office – Art-Socy 3123 – and you can contact her at kmarsh@socy.umd.edu.

Beverly Pratt is a second year PhD student.

Alumni Spotlight: Tallese Johnson (written by Beverly Pratt)

As we begin our first semester of the Alumni Speaker Series – which will commence with Phil Cohen on April 30 – it is appropriate to also highlight department alumni within our newsletter.  How else can we pick their brains on graduate student advice, post-graduate life (is there one?), and their perspectives on intellectual maturation and the sociological imagination?  While the next newsletter edition will spotlight Dr. Phil Cohen, this edition spotlights Dr. Tallese Johnson.

The summer of 2008 – a few months before my first semester at UMD – I had the privilege of interning at the U.S. Census Bureau and met many current and former UMD sociology students.  One of the alumni I met was Tallese Johnson, as she was that summer’s intern coordinator within the Bureau’s Demographic Directorate.  Once she discovered that I was new to UMD, Tallese immediately took me out for a Suitland, MD lunch and provided me with oodles of advice and guidance.  Since that summer, I have been lucky enough to encounter Tallese in other settings, including another summer at the Bureau and ASA sessions and receptions.
This past weekend, Tallese and I were able to talk about her time at Maryland, her experiences post-PhD, and her perspectives on intellectual maturation and the sociological imagination.  What follows are major themes from our discussion.  Enjoy!

Tallese began her Maryland tenure in 1993, finished her Master’s degree in 1996, and completed her PhD in 2000.  She came directly from Berea College – a small liberal arts school in Kentucky – where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Political Science.

Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, Tallese was and is significantly influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and was intellectually stimulated by political sociology, specifically public policy, beginning in high school.  While a student at Berea, Tallese “fell in love with Sociology” and began studying social stratification focusing on the experiences of welfare mothers.  Her experience at Berea College, a college which charges no tuition and only educates students from working class backgrounds, also influenced her overall decision to continue her studies in social stratification   As she began her graduate school search, our department’s Social Stratification specialty area caught her attention, specifically how the area’s work impacted racial minority communities.

Once Tallese arrived at UMD, her specialty areas became Social Stratification and Gender, Work, and Family (GWF).  She decided to specialize in GWF – in addition to Social Stratification – because of her long-term interest in welfare reform and poverty.  Tallese worked with Bart Landry for her Master’s degree and then worked with Reeve Vanneman and Bonnie Thornton Dill for her dissertation.  Her Master’s thesis looked at earning differentials between Black and White women using U.S. Census data from 1980 to 1990.  Her dissertation was an analysis of job quality and welfare recidivism.  While Tallese focused on welfare reform and poverty, she did not study public policy as much as she initially expected.  However, her interests were satiated indirectly through these specialty areas – welfare reform through GWF and poverty through Social Stratification.

After graduation, Tallese pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Carolina Population Center.  This provided time for Tallese to continue her dissertation agenda and to understand policy from a different angle; essentially she had more time to contemplate work and academia.  While at UNC, Tallese worked with Kathleen Harris, a sociologist whose work is very influential within welfare reform.

Tallese highly recommends a postdoc, as it is a great boosting point particularly for students pursuing academic careers.  Though she doesn’t work within academia, Tallese benefited greatly from it; she had more time to sharpen her research and writing skills.  Though the UNC postdoc was very much an academic pillar – not geared toward government and applied settings – she found the experience rewarding.  Specifically, she trained as a demographer at UNC, something that she did not do at UMD; therefore, she was able to understand different methodological approaches to the study of sociology.

Once she completed her postdoc at UNC in 2002, she returned to UMD as a research associate at the Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity and as a lecturer in the Sociology department.  In 2004, Tallese began working as a Statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau in the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch.  As of this year, she is a Statistician in the Racial Statistics Branch.  Her duties as a statistician include leading research projects to review, analyze and evaluate Census survey data.

Why did Tallese choose a career at the U.S. Census as opposed to academia?  The decision was part of the long intellectual maturation process within and around graduate school.  She first entered graduate school with the sole intention of becoming a professor.  While she enjoyed teaching and student interaction, public policy continuously pulled her heartstrings.  Additionally, she questioned whether or not academia’s lifestyle was for her.  Within her last two years of graduate school, Tallese made the decision to pursue an applied career, a decision that threw her for a loop.  Tallese, however, credits her advisors – Reeve Vanneman and Bonnie Thornton Dill  – for being very supportive.  Even though she knew that most of her advisors’ contacts were academicians, she found them to remain extremely helpful and encouraging, as they were keenly aware of her initial interests in research and public policy.  Even though she chose a career outside of academia, Tallese continues to love working with students and encouraging them to pursue their goals.

Though she has not used the term “sociological imagination” since graduate school, her own sociological imagination remains a daily influence – especially in how she approaches her work.  She locates her work of producing quality data about the nation’s people and economy as integral to the work of researchers, academicians, public policy makers, and community activists who use the data to impact social change.  Census data are used to make community-planning decisions about what services are needed in communities based on its population, such as elder care services, new roads or schools. Census data is also used to determine the amount of federal funds allocated to  communities for public health, education, and transportation.  Finally, Census data is used by academicians, researchers and policy makers to carry out research that informs public policy.  Tallese is very aware of the varied uses of Census data and how they impact larger social change, and is guided by the mission statement of the U.S. Census Bureau to produce quality data.

For Tallese, intellectual maturation stems from sociological studies and professional experiences.   She is aware of how much she matured between graduate school, through her postdoc, and up until now.  The whole experience of graduate school is part of this process including studies, comprehensive exams, theses, teaching, research assistantships, etc.  Her maturation didn’t just occur in classroom settings; it also happened as she had internships and experienced other life events. Since Tallese went directly from undergrad to grad school, she didn’t have a lot of work experience.  Because of this she participated in – and highly promotes taking – internships in order to be exposed to varied research settings including government, nonprofit, and think tank organizations.  Doing so exposes students to different areas of the discipline – from applied settings to academic settings – which each contribute to the intellectual maturation of the student.  (During graduate school Tallese had an internship at the National Center for Health Statistics, and a predoctoral fellowship at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.)  That said, Tallese is a huge proponent of any training and exposure graduate students can receive to diversify their portfolio and to deepen their intellectual maturation process.  Exposure is key within the intellectual maturation process.

As we closed the conversation, Tallese’s parting words of advice were as follows:  “Take ownership of your interests.  And don’t be afraid to map your own path.  All of us have different paths.  And, at the end of the day, it is your career.”

Much thanks to Tallese for her time and her wisdom!  You can contact Tallese at tallese.d.johnson@census.gov.

Beverly Pratt is a second year PhD student.

Inspiring Their Sociological Imaginations: Professor Book Recommendations

When Dr. Venkatesh spoke with graduate students this past Fall, he gave a list of book recommendations he felt as if every graduate student should read.  To continue with last semester’s newsletter theme of Imagination, department faculty sent along book recommendations for graduate students that inspired their sociological imagination?

William Falk:

“My recommendation is an old, classic book:  Peter L. Berger’s Invitation To Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective.  It’s a short, fairly easy-to-read book and for graduate students (especially in their first year), it’s a wonderful overview of what sociology is – complete with citations too and use of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.  Although using very dated masculine pronouns (remember, it’s an old book), Berger’s chapters on “man in society” and “society in man” are great reminders about not only the micro-macro dimensions within sociology but equally, how social order is created and sustained.  Berger asserts that “society is the walls of our imprisonment” and then, in a further chapter, asks:  “why is the yoke of society made easy to bear?”  To me, these are timeless issues for our sociological imaginations (something else he discusses!).”

Melissa Milkie:

“I think The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Russell Hochschild was one that really was insightful in linking the social world with self and emotion.  It was her best book, by far.”

Stanley Presser:

“Your request for book suggestions arrived while I was visiting Indonesia, so it was hard not to think of The Interpretation of Cultures by Clifford Geertz – much of which concerns Bali and Java.  The essays, several brilliant, are a model of how to think social scientifically.  Unlike many of us, Geertz writes beautifully, and thus is a pleasure to read.  If you think you don’t have time for the entire book, read “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” (chapter 15).  Then you’ll want to read the other chapters as well.”

And Dr. Venkatesh’s recommendations were:

The Informational City: Economic Restructuring and Urban Development by Manuel Castells

The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch

The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo by Saskia Sassen

The Social Order of the Slum: Ethnicity and Territory in the Inner City by Gerald D. Suttles

The Gold Coast and the Slum by Harvey Warren Zorbaugh