sociology newsletter

Welcome to the Department of Sociology at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. We hope you enjoy our Fall 2021 Newsletter.


  • Message from the Chair
  • Department Happenings
  • Faculty Updates
  • Alumni Spotlight and Updates 
  • Student Highlights
  • Research Opportunities
  • About the Department of Sociology 


Message from the Chair
Dr. Kyle Knight, Associate Professor and Chair

It’s been another eventful year for the Department of Sociology, as I’m sure it has been for many of you! I’m very happy to have this opportunity to share with you the noteworthy events and achievements of our students and faculty over the last academic year. We also have some very special moments to commemorate in the department and with our alumni.

The inimitable Dr. Mitch Berbrier has retired after 25 years of service to UAH, including appointments as Department Chair, Faculty Senate President, and Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. We already miss Mitch and wish him a relaxing and joyful retirement!

We have a new faculty member, Dr. Andrew Bisto (Lecturer), who will be teaching courses in criminology and deviance for the department. Read more about Andrew in the faculty spotlight.

Finally, the sociology major at UAH turned 50 years old this September! The university established and began offering a major in sociology in the fall of 1971, and since then over 400 students have graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from UAH. These graduates have gone on to have successful careers in a wide range of industries and professions, including as social workers, teachers, lawyers, software developers, business owners, probation officers, counselors, data analysts, professors, and so much more. I want to acknowledge Dr. Donald Tarter, Dr. Mark Iutcovich, Dr. Reese Kilgo, Mr. Terry Herb, and Mr. Terry Mizell, the first sociologists at UAH, for their hard work in establishing the sociology major at UAH. We celebrated this important milestone with an open house event for students and faculty on September 10, 2021, at the new amphitheater outside the recently renovated Morton Hall.

We are constantly impressed by the accomplishments of our alumni and always appreciate getting updates about their careers and life achievements. In this issue, we spotlight Ethan Shutt (‘14) whose academic and professional career brought him to Washington state where he has found success in the field of data analytics. We also share updates on the lives and careers of two other wonderful sociology alumni, Shaquetta Young Williams and Brenda Taylor-Moody, both of whom are making outstanding contributions in the field of social services.

We’d love to hear from you too! Please keep in touch after graduation and send us your updates!



New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Andrew Bisto

faculty spotlight bisto

The Department of Sociology welcomed new lecturer Dr. Andrew Bisto this fall. He is teaching a mix of sociology and criminology courses with a focus on the social construction of crime, deviance, power, race, and the law.

Bisto is from a small steel town in southern Illinois (Granite City) and earned his sociology degrees through Missouri's university system. His dissertation research focused on the social origins of alcohol prohibition legislation in the state of Missouri and the United States in the early twentieth century.

After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2016, he then served as a Lecturer at Northern Arizona University for three years teaching criminology courses. While in Arizona, Bisto was able to publish an article from his dissertation research in the journal Crime, Law and Social Change.

New Sociology Lab and Resource Center

sociology lab

Located on the lower level of Morton Hall (MOR 015) is the new-and-improved Sociology Lab and Resource Center. This space for sociology students features four computer stations with SPSS and other useful software, a scanner, a printer, a dry erase board, and a library of sociology books. This space is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Whitney Pirtle Distinguished Speaker Series

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Dr. Whitney Pirtle gave an online guest lecture through the UAH Distinguished Speaker Series on February 17. The lecture, titled “Racism, Class, and COVID-19 Death Gaps,” drew a sizable audience who logged into Zoom to participate.

Pirtle is an award-winning author, researcher, teacher, and mentor. She is Assistant Professor of Sociology and MacArthur Foundation Chair in International Justice and Human Rights at the University of California, Merced. She has affiliations with Public Health and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies departments and directs the Sociology of Health and Equity (SHE) Lab. Her research explores issues relating to race, identity, inequality, and health equity. 

In her UAH talk, she explored how racial capitalism, the idea that racialized exploitation and capital accumulation are mutually reinforced systems, structure health inequities. These intersecting systems are exacerbated in the face of additional forms of oppression and in times of health crises. Synthesizing early reports and preliminary empirical studies, she demonstrated how multiple, overlapping mechanisms shape the excess deaths in COVID-19 across racial lines and that health inequities will continue to be replicated unless we can fundamentally change our unequal system. 

Sociology Major Brenda Hernandez Wins Research Award

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Brenda Hernandez, a Sociology major who is also minoring in Political Science and pursuing the Certificate in Social Data Analysis, won second place for undergraduates in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the seventh annual Research Horizons Virtual Poster Session with her project titled “Inadequate Social Spending in the U.S.: An Attitudinal Study of the Hispanic Perspective.” 

Regarding her work in Social Data Analysis, Brenda says, “The SDA Certificate opened up the quantitative side of sociology for me. Although statistics can be challenging, I was able to combine my love for math and sociology while simultaneously becoming a much more desirable candidate for graduate school. Due to the courses required for the certificate, I was also able to produce a research project in my Data Analysis (SOC 314) class that won me second place at the UAH Research Horizons poster session. Social data analysis is a tedious art and I am glad I chose to pursue the SDA Certificate because it further improved my skill set.”


  • Andrew Bisto joined the Sociology faculty at UAH in the fall 2021 semester. In his first semester, he is teaching two sections of Introduction to Sociology and two sections of Introduction to Criminology. In the spring 2022 semester, Bisto will be teaching one section of Introduction to Sociology, two sections of Introduction to Criminology, and one section of Deviance and Social Control.
  • Kyle Knight published a co-authored article earlier this year in The Social Science Journal titled “Gender and climate change views in context: A cross-national multilevel analysis.” He is currently preparing to teach the SOC 495 Capstone Seminar for the first time this spring and is excited to see what interesting internships and research projects students complete in that class.
  • Jennifer Sims published two articles on qualitative research methods and was an invited participant in the Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppression, Decolonized Research Methodology Curriculum Design Working Conference sponsored by American Educational Research Association and Boston University. In March, she appeared on a live broadcast of BBC World News to discuss the racism faced by mixed-race people in the UK and US. She is the recipient of the Southern Sociological Society’s 2021 Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award and a co-recipient of a 2021 educational research grant from the Factors affecting Learning, Attitudes, and Mindsets in Education network (FLAMEnet).
  • Christina Steidl has begun a new project related to how the COVID-19 pandemic shifted perceptions of work and workers. The research team, which includes Sociology major Rhys O'Donnell and faculty members from the College of Business and Department of Communication Arts, has looked at both shifting perceptions of occupational prestige and how social media engagement during the pandemic might directly impact essential workers’ job satisfaction and turnover intentions. In the realm of teaching, Steidl is grateful to have worked with so many amazing students in completing their Sociology Capstone course over the past six years. Beginning in Spring 2022, Kyle Knight will be teaching the Capstone, which will allow Steidl to teach additional courses like Sociology of Gender, Money and Power, and Sociology of Education.
  • Bob Thomson published two recent articles, including a study on confidence in Congress and corporations in Social Science Quarterly and another on the influence of race and religion on post-incarceration health, published in Sociological Inquiry. Thomson also contributed to a chapter in a new volume titled Identity in a Secular Age: Science, Religion, and Public Perceptions, edited by Fern Elsdon-Baker and Bernard Lightman (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). In addition, he presented research on race, religion, and attitudes about education at the Association for Education Finance and Policy Conference in March 2021, and he was featured as a guest on Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen podcast. In the classroom, he has been developing two courses, Statistics for the Social Sciences and Drugs and Society.


Feature Interview with Ethan Shutt

ethan shutt

Ethan Shutt graduated with a major in Sociology in 2014. He graciously took some time to answer a few of our questions about his life and work after UAH.

What kind of work do you do in your current job?

 I'm a Data Technology Manager for a Labor Union representing Home Care and Nursing Home Workers in Washington, Montana, and Alaska. I originally started at this organization three years ago this month as a Data Analyst. It was my first job after graduate school, and it sincerely is my dream job—finding something I'm good at doing and working on projects that I'm passionate about. The Sociology degree played a large role in lighting the fire for that passion in Social Justice and working for underserved and marginalized communities.

How has sociology prepared you for your work?

Sociology largely provided context for my current and previous roles. I've struggled in the past when I'm given a task with no context, but Sociology taught me how to zoom in and out of social systems from an interpersonal level to large systemic and cultural levels. For example, caregivers in the United States typically are women and women of color. This isn't a recent phenomenon and can be tracked back to when people were enslaved in the United States, and this is even more apparent when you realize that caregivers do not have any protections under OSHA because they are actually written as an agricultural position. Additionally, I'm proud to have worked on the nation's FIRST bill creating a system that will protect long-term caregivers in the State of Washington from harassment, abuse, and discrimination. I did the quantitative research that ultimately was presented to activist leaders and legislators throughout the United States and has started a chain reaction of similar bills being introduced in Legislators around the country. See Senate Bill 6205 for more information on this historic legislation.

How has sociology prepared you for life, projects, any community work you're engaged in, etc.?

Growing up as a cis-gendered white man in rural Alabama, I started the Sociology program with a LOT of unchecked privilege. The Sociology degree taught me invaluable lessons about intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and generally exposed me to different ways of thinking about social issues in our culture and beyond! Without these important steps in my own development as an activist and general decent human, I would not be where I am today getting to work with folks from all over the world from all walks of life. I love what I do, and I feel so good to say and own that.

Ethical Machine Learning. As a Data Analyst, I created one of the first Local-level machine learning models in the Labor Movement to successfully predict membership behavior which would allow us to strategize more effectively in the field which in turn would allow us to be better stewards of dues dollars coming from low-wage workers. However, it's not lost on me that AI and Labor have not had the friendliest relationship, historically. Which is why when I was asked to present my Machine Learning concepts and research at an international labor conference in Washington, D.C., I was intentional about talking about ethical AI research in the context of Labor, and that no matter what we decide to undertake as researchers, we have a responsibility to make sure we are not putting people out of jobs. Sociology is the degree to thank for giving me the insight to include the ethics portion of the presentation. In doing so, I was able to highlight that with the platform of creating tools to drive strategy, that we want to help the marginalized communities we represent find their voice and power and not create tools that would do harm by putting our folks out of jobs and then, in turn, feed into the vicious cycle of poverty.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Just a note to the LGBTQ+ students who might be reading this and have found themselves rejected by family or friends for living their authentic lives. It gets better! When I came out of the closet my second year of college, I was rejected by my immediate family and experienced homelessness for my first summer out of the closet. And in the face of that adversity, I kept reminding myself that it gets better. I talked with fellow queer folks in the community, and the repeating words of encouragement I received was that it gets better. That was my mantra, and it helped keep me going. When I was feeling buried under the seemingly impossible pressures to be successful, get a job, get good grades, pay the bills, pay the rent, and no horizon in sight, I reminded myself that it will get better. And that advice saved my life. I'm now working the job of my dreams as a leader at one of the most innovative and modeled Locals in the nation, have made lifelong friends from all over the world, and have gotten to knock some things off the bucket list, like seeing the Taj Mahal in person and helping to make a difference for folks on a national level. The adversity you’re experiencing today, this year, this chapter of your life, adds to the richness of your story (own your story!), and when you reach the better part of the story, you can encourage others coming up by letting them know that it gets better. 

Alumni Updates

We invited sociology alumni to share updates on your lives and work with us. We were delighted to receive these updates from two alumni with a significant impact on social services in our region. We invite you to share your updates with us!

Shaquetta Young Williams (‘14)

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I am now married with two children. I currently work within medical social work for two years now and prior to that was 4 1/2 years with the state of Alabama as a social worker. What Sociology has taught me most is how to critically think and analyze social problems. For example, socioeconomic status makes a huge difference in the world. It affects what resources you have access to, thus how quickly or how poorly you’re able to advance. After UAH, I went on to get my masters degree in social work from Walden University. I became licensed on the masters level as a social worker shortly after and will test for my clinical licensure this fall! I plan to start my own private practice. Pictured are myself and husband Eric Williams who is an Army Combat Veteran.

Brenda Taylor-Moody (’12) 

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I am a graduate with BA's in Sociology and Psychology with a minor in Studio Art. I am currently working with the Alabama Department of Mental Health: Developmental Disabilities Division as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC). I counsel consumers who wish to return to work or school about how their SSI or SSDI benefits will be affected by entering the job market. We also help with financial planning for life changes (marriage, retirement or business ownership) and how to maximize incentive programs to meet all goals. 

My time at UAH prepared me to use the latest data to assist in applying for grants to increase services to Alabama's disabled population. I was recently involved with a group who received federal funding to increase services to those on the Medicaid Disabilities waiting lists. I enjoy the research which was instrumental in not only securing funding but obtaining a substantial increase in what we applied for. Dr. Berbrier and Dr. Finley taught me to look for the hidden reasons behind individual choices and I use that daily to help clients navigate a broken system. 

I will receive my Masters in Social Work from Alabama A&M University in December 2021 with plans to obtain my license in Clinical Social work. I will continue my volunteer work in Madison County with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and assisting with training of local law enforcement's Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to aid in a health outcome when encountering those living with mental illness. 


Outstanding Major: Kenzie Luttrell

Each year, the Department of Sociology recognizes one student whose academic performance and/or recognizable potential for future performance is exemplary. The recipient of the 2021 award was Kenzie Luttrell.

Recent Graduates Spotlight

Sociology celebrates our graduates from Spring 2021. Here are a few and what they love about Sociology.

  • Hannah Howell loves the way that society is always changing and how her generation is adapting and changing it to be more inclusive and educated. She says that sociology was a subject that she never knew about until UAH but that she ended up loving learning about it so much that she added it as a minor, then ended up just double majoring! Her two favorite subjects to learn about in sociology classes were intersectionality and deviance. After graduation, Hannah will work as a Registered Behavioral Technician for kids on the autism spectrum.
  • Dejanee Perkins loves that the sociology department welcomed her with warm, open arms, and she says it was greatly appreciated. She is considering going to graduate school after UAH.
  • Sydney Walker likes learning different sociological theories and the discussions it leads one to have with other people. After graduation, she plans on going to graduate school.
Congratulations 2020-21 Graduates

Jessica Brown
Rebecca Blanks
Mercedes Chappell
Hannah Crouse
Callie Goodwin
Jacob Greider
Anne Cheri Gygax
Alexis Hayes
Hannah Howell
Maria Johnson
Hannah Luker
Kenzie Luttrell
Dejanee Perkins
Sydney Walker
Parker Warren

Spring 2021 Senior Capstone Presentations

Fourteen sociology majors completed capstone academic or internship projects.

  • Rebecca Blanks – “Beliefs about Science Among Adults in America”
  • Anna Cotton – “Organizational Report: Food Bank of North Alabama”
  • Callie Goodwin – “Organizational Report: First Stop”
  • Anne Cheri Gygax – “Organizational Report: Huntsville Pregnancy Resource Center"
  • Alex Haynes – “Earth Benders Aren’t the Only Thing Groundbreaking Around Here: Fandom Reactions to Under-Represented Sexualities in The Legend of Korra”
  • Hannah Howell – “Organizational Report: The Riley Center”
  • Maria Johnson – “Gender Encoded in American Sign Language Names of Countries”
  • Olivia Kreydatus – “Organizational Report: NAMI Huntsville”
  • Hannah Luker – “Organizational Report: Greater Huntsville Humane Society”
  • Dejanee Perkins – “‘People Were Just Being Weird’: Microaggressions and the Alienation of Black Women in Nursing Schools”
  • Sydney Walker – “Organizational Report: Crisis Services of North Alabama”
  • Parker Warren – “Organizational Report: Madison Academy High School Baseball”


Get paid to build your research skills and your resume!

UAH RCEU Program
This program is a great opportunity for students to work on research projects with faculty in various disciplines over the summer. Students get one-on-one mentorship and learn valuable new research skills. There are two levels of participation by students, one with a stipend award and one without a stipend but with other benefits and the chance for a monetary prize. Applications for Summer 2022 will be accepted this Fall (deadline to be announced); keep in mind these projects may be carried out remotely.

NSF REU Programs
This national program offers students free travel, room and board, and a generous stipend for spending a summer on a research project with faculty at a university with an REU Site. Opportunities differ each year, but previous examples include an REU program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln involving applying social network analysis to racial health disparities and one at Texas A&M University involving research on residential segregation and disparities in criminal justice outcomes. Deadlines are specific to each university’s program and are typically in January or February.

Opportunities for Undergraduates to Present Research at Conferences

Presenting at academic conferences is not just for your professors! If you’ve completed a research project or even just written a research paper for a class, you too can travel to a conference and present your work. The College of Art, Humanities, and Social Sciences will even help pay for it; the Dean’s Office provides up to $330 per year to undergraduates to attend and present research at conferences. The following conferences are welcoming places for students to get some experience presenting their work as a talk or as a poster. Many also offer specific programs for undergraduates, travel grants, and student paper competitions with monetary prizes. So, talk with your professors about it and consider participating in one of the nearby conferences listed below.

Southern Sociological Society (SSS) 
This conference will be held April 6-9, 2022, in Birmingham, AL. The deadline for submissions is November 5th, 2021. UAH Sociology is a Departmental Member of SSS, so you will not have to pay annual dues in order to present at this conference.

Mid-South Sociological Association
This conference is typically held in October of each year. In 2022 it will be held in Nashville, TN. Check out their website for information on next year’s meeting.


Department of Sociology at The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Morton Hall, Room 206

Phone: 256.824.6190

2021 Photo Gallery