Sociology symposium celebrates seniors’ research

Photo by Alyssa Rabinowitz

The culmination of a semester of sociological research was celebrated this Wednesday in the Trustees Pavilion for seniors in the capstone class of the sociology program. The symposium allowed students to present their research devised and conducted in the past several months, but also featured a panel of alumni of the program who spoke on their post-graduate paths with degrees in sociology.

Poster presentations took place during the first hour, with students explaining their work to fellow students, faculty and administrators in attendance. Professor Erin Augis, who teaches the capstone course, and Kristin Kenneavy, an associate professor of sociology, facilitated the event.

The sociology capstone course is not like most other classes that students take, due to the level of autonomy and initiative that is involved. The goal of the course and the symposium is for students to “have a signature project that is really their own,” according to professor Kenneavy. “You’re front and center and you own it.”

The projects ranged in topics in sociology and criminology such as the role of sexual orientation in bystander intervention, relations between the police and communities, and the perception of hate speech by those with and without Jewish lineage.

Professor Augis explained how the students chose a sociological variable such as race, generation, socioeconomic status or gender and formed focus groups that were demographically homogeneous in all ways except for that characteristic.

The students then interviewed these focus groups and collected data that was a “synergistic effect from what people [were] talking about,” and eventually came to conclusions of their own.

One project titled “Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Understandings of Mental Health” by senior Jenna Lubeck compared generational attitudes toward depression and differing levels of emotional expression between the two groups.

There were fascinating findings that help to understand a mismatch in perceptions of mental health, including much more detailed responses by millennials about upsetting things that have happened to them. She wished she could have continued further with it, however.

“For capstone, we only have one semester to work on these projects, which can be frustrating," Lubeck said. “I would want to go back and conduct more focus groups, or show these results to people and see how they respond.”

Following the poster session was the alumni panel, in which six graduates of the sociology program with widely ranging careers discussed how the curriculum and skills they learned help them in their everyday lives.

One alumna, Gabriella Guido, spoke about how her degree has not only prepared her for a job, but also for daily interactions and many potential careers. Though she originally thought she wanted to be a police officer, she decided to pursue something different after graduation and now works in the corporate world for BMW North America.

The alumni’s career fields spanned from entrepreneurship to nursing to counseling. They each shared how their journeys may have been different from their expectations, but that a background in sociology was a key component in their success.

They also advised students that their paths do not have to be linear, and they should feel freedom to move around and switch jobs, something that has become more and more common for recent graduates.

Professor Augis commented on the significance of hearing these varied experiences first-hand.

She thought students could appreciate the panel’s insights on the way the labor market has developed, which is something professors may not necessarily be able to offer since they typically have more experience with graduate school and academia.                                         

This event likely served to ease the minds of graduating students who have uncertainty or anxiety about life after college. It allowed students to “first understand that everything’s going to be fine for the most part, and secondly that there really are a diverse range of options,” said Kenneavy. “They’re not always the thing you thought you were going to do.”