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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

PLU's small sociology department yields big success

Sociology faculty and grads
Small Department, Big Success:(Back row left to right) Sociology professors Dick Jobst, Joanna Higginson, Kay McDade and Ann Leon-Guerrero. (Bottom row) grads Katie Luther, Kristian Wiles, and LeAnne Jones.

By Drew Brown

PLU sends an extraordinary number of sociology graduates to some of the most prestigious graduate schools in the country—many with lucrative scholarships. The breadth of student success in the last few years is even more impressive because the program has just five faculty members and a little more than 20 students.

"The prestige of the programs the students have been accepted to has been quite remarkable," said Dick Jobst, who has been a sociology professor at PLU since 1967.

PLU's sociology majors get plenty of real-world experience, along with guidance from their professors.

Katie Luther '02 will join the Ph.D. program at the University of California Riverside. She received a Dean's Fellowship. Her most rewarding opportunity at PLU came with her recent collaboration with professor Joanna Higginson. They received an S. Erving Severtson/Forest Foundation Research Fellowship Award to research how incarcerated women parent. To research, they spent time at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy, Wash.

LeAnne Jones '02 won a full scholarship and an $11,000 stipend to focus on nonprofit management and community development at the University of Delaware.

Kristian Wiles '02 is considering offers from Delaware and Syracuse, and also a Dean's Fellowship offer from UC Riverside. Wiles, who developed his senior thesis on homosexuality, and the five-stage process of the "coming out," presented his findings at the recent Pacific Sociological Association Conference in Vancouver, B.C. Jones, Luther and other PLU students and faculty participated in the conference with paper presentations and discussions.

It was just one of many opportunities they have had to grow as sociologists over four years and one thing that sets PLU apart. Students have already given conference presentations and done fieldwork before graduation-an activity many sociology students don't have until graduate school.

"Our goal is to give them concrete skills where they will become true sociologists," Jobst said.

Onora Lien '00 is another success story. Not only is she currently working on her Ph.D at Johns Hopkins, but she has vast field experience. Within a week of Sept. 11, she was asked to join a four-person rapid response research team for the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. They went to New York City to document the volunteer efforts, public reaction and response to the World Trade Center attacks.

Higginson is impressed with the caliber of students.

"They have all had exceptional initiative—they knew what they wanted, were focused and goal-oriented in making it happen," she said.

Students credit their professors for their success.

"They teach as a unit, they all are willing to help students to succeed," Jones said. "They also know good research, and the people at these schools know who our professors are."

Wiles credits his faculty mentors for his success.

"Their knowledge and support have provided me with endless opportunities," Wiles said.


Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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