A Time of Transition: Notes from the incoming and outgoing department chairs

The group is bunched together and masked, with the Lawson garden flowers and trees seen behind them.
Annual department picnic at Lawson Gardens. From left: Kyle Rakowski, Jair Johnson, Christie Miksys, Julie Kmec, Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson, Aleksey Reshetnikov, and Megan Konkel.

This August, Professor Julie Kmec began her appointment as chair of the Department of Sociology, succeeding Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson who re-entered the faculty after four years in the leadership position.

Monica joined the department as an assistant professor in 2002 and has earned many accolades for both her research and her teaching, such as being named an Honors College Faculty Fellow, being elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences, and receiving the 2021 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Career Faculty Achievement Award. Monica’s research has reshaped our understanding of the transition to adulthood and how young people undertake adulthood. She has published in top journals, such as the American Journal of Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology, Social Forces, and Social Problems, as well as co-edited the Handbook of the Life Course, Volume 2. Monica led the department exceptionally during a difficult time, and we greatly appreciate and thank her for her service.

A note from Monica:

Monica is forward facing and smiling.
Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson.

As I began my term as the department chair, I knew that, beyond the day-to-day management of the department, I wanted to work on several longer-term initiatives. Key among them was to better connect with other disciplines and programs on campus to advance our understanding of the social world, and I wanted to reinvigorate our undergraduate program to make clear the usefulness of sociology for students’ lives and as preparation for a range of careers. I am so fortunate to be a part of a department that worked so collaboratively and creatively towards achieving these goals. Through shared speaker events, collaborative research projects, and hiring partnerships, we have strengthened ties across the institution and heightened awareness of our expertise and contributions, both in research and education. And as detailed in a previous edition of the newsletter, we developed new courses, new minors, and other programming to extend our reach with undergraduate students and help our majors envision and prepare for successful careers.

Looking back, there were also things I didn’t know would be such important parts of being chair these past four years. I didn’t know that serving as chair would connect me to so many of you, friends and alumni of the department, and at times even afford me the chance to partner with you to create new opportunities for future students. I have truly enjoyed that. I didn’t know how often my colleagues would step up and provide key leadership and expertise to the University as a whole, drawing on our understandings of systems, structures, and inequality to improve outcomes for students, staff and faculty. What a vantage point I had! And, as you might imagine, I didn’t see the pandemic coming. While incredibly challenging, both professionally and personally for most if not all of us, I am also struck by the generosity, grace, and continued championing of our values that I saw repeatedly in the department. It has been an honor to “lead” this fantastic group of people. I also feel incredibly fortunate to have handed over the reins to Julie Kmec whom I greatly admire and am confident will provide excellent leadership in the years to come.

While Monica moved back to her corner office (a different corner from the chair’s office!), the department welcomed Julie into her new position and new corner office. Since Julie joined the department in 2002, she has established herself as an expert in labor market inequality, workplace diversity, and organizations. She has received many prestigious awards, fellowships, and positions, such as the Edward R. Meyer distinguished professorship and the Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching. Along with collaborators, she has been awarded more than $1 million in NSF grants and is currently conducting research on women’s participation in STEM. She is the current editor-in-chief of Sociology Compass and has published in top journals such as Social Problems, Social Science Research, Gender & Society, and the American Journal of Sociology.

A note from Julie:

A front facing photo of Julie Kmec, from the shoulders up. She is looking into the camera and smiling.
Julie Kmec

I am excited to be the next chair of the Department of Sociology and am lucky to follow the footsteps of our previous chair, Monica, whose visionary leadership I will embrace. The pandemic allowed us to reflect on our academic values, work habits, and connection to our current and former students. It is my hope to take advantage of these collective reflections to set clear goals related to student engagement, graduate mentoring, faculty life, and connections to our past. In my role as chair, I also envision supporting the ongoing success of our intra-departmental research collaborations, efforts to present non-academic job options to graduate students, and enhanced opportunities for undergraduate student achievement. I will continue and put into practice our existing department’s anti-racism efforts, especially in the classroom. I am interested in hearing from others, especially department alumni, whose support and accomplishments make us who we are today.