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What kind of work have you done since graduating with your sociology degree?

I have not yet held a paid position related to sociology, as I am currently in grad school (online through the University of Alabama) getting my master's in social work. Upon graduation and licensure, I hope to work in the medical field with geriatric populations. I'm interning at a hospice agency this semester in Huntsville, Alabama, and loving it! This summer, I was able to complete an internship with a community organization in the Alphabet City neighborhood of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This is an underserved area with a long history of drugs and crime, but passionate residents are slowly but surely transforming it into a beautiful, diverse hub for local restaurants, art, music, and family life. Even so, thanks to NYC's housing crisis, there is a fairly large community of people in this neighborhood who have no place to call home and don't know where their next meal might come from. This summer, I got to have a small part in distributing free meals and clothing to some of these individuals and providing a listening ear to weary people who just need to be heard and valued.

How have you used the skills and knowledge you learned in the UAH sociology program in your career?

In my internship this summer, I interacted almost daily with unhoused people, people with severe mental illnesses, as well as immigrants brand new to this country who often spoke little or no English. It's easy to make assumptions about the background or motives of people who are in these types of situations, assumptions that usually aren't at all accurate to someone's life story. Based on the knowledge I gained in my UAH SOC classes like "Race & Ethnicity", "Social Problems," and "Social Psychology," I was able to view these people's circumstances more holistically and understand the societal issues preventing them from improving their situation. I believe these classes directly contributed to my level of compassion and grace in my interactions with these people.

What have been some of the challenges and rewards of working in your field?

Compassion fatigue is real. It's hard to be in a place as big, diverse, and overwhelming as New York City and feel like anything you're doing is making a real difference for someone. Even in a smaller city like Huntsville, the sheer weight of other people's problems and needs can really weigh you down. It's vital to practice self-care and have people you can lean on, both loved ones and a professional counselor. At the same time, those moments where you make a real connection with someone and get to see how you've helped them are priceless. In New York, I was the only person at my organization who spoke any French, which ended up being a very helpful skill with some West African immigrants we were assisting. I had studied French in high school and had never had an opportunity to really use it until now! Recently at my hospice internship, I was able to sing a handful of old hymns out of a hymnal a patient had in his bedside table. I grew up on those old songs, and my patient's face absolutely lit up hearing songs he probably hadn't been able to hear or sing in years! Those moments are worth pushing through all the feelings of helplessness or inadequacy.

How has your training in sociology impacted your life outside of work?

I have been blessed with a diverse group of friends from many different cultures and walks of life. I believe strongly that without my sociology degree, I would not be as curious and thoughtful about other cultures and belief systems as I am now. Through my sociology classes, I learned that people do not make decisions in a vacuum. There are always outside factors working for and against them, many of which are not immediately obvious to the casual observer. I know that my sociology training has made me a better, more thoughtful, and compassionate friend.

What inspired you to major in sociology?

I originally began my undergrad career as a Communications major because I like people, I like to talk, and I'm a decent writer, so it seemed fitting. However, after talking to my academic advisor (shout out to Jana Savanapridi who is unfortunately no longer at UAH!) sometime during my freshman year, I realized my communication skills and love of people could help me be a great social worker or counselor, so I switched to double major in sociology and psychology. I've always had a curiosity about how people interact and maintain a society, and also about mental processes and the relationship with the self, so soc/psych was a perfect combo for me!

What was your favorite sociology class? Why?

It wasn't necessarily a pleasant class given the extremely heavy subject matter, but "Race & Ethnicity" with Dr. Jennifer Sims truly changed my life. It informed me and provided a different perspective on many issues I had never really sat with and considered. As a white woman, there was so much I just didn't know about the lived experiences of people of color and their treatment in the United States and throughout the world. It was very sobering to learn, and I always left that class with a lot to think about, but I loved the way Dr. Sims taught and the good discussions we had in class.

What advice would you give current sociology students at UAH, both for their time in college and for life after graduation?

Take advantage of everything the university has to offer. If you have time in your schedule, do something outside your major, especially something that will keep you active or let you be creative. I took volleyball, ladies self defense (HIGHLY recommend!!), yoga, and ballroom dance, and spent two semesters in the UAH concert choir. I was also involved in a campus ministry and was able to lead worship and plan events there and make some of the best friends I've ever had. Taking an elective or joining a student org you're interested in is a great way to make new friends and get out of your comfort zone. Also, don't be afraid to approach your professors! The UAH sociology profs are truly some of the best on campus and really want you to learn and succeed in and out of class!

As far as post-grad life, remember that you are on no one's timeline but your own. You don't need to chase the same job or promotion or life path as everyone else. Be confident in what you have chosen and work hard at everything you do. Remember that most college friendships are not forever, and you will find your people along the way. The world is about to open up for you, be open to whatever's coming. Best of luck!