Amy Wharton reflects on a fulfilling career and future plans in retirement
By Alana Inlow
Ed. Note: Answers were lightly edited for clarity.
Alana: Where were you before you came to WSU?
Amy: Let’s see. I did my bachelors, masters, and PhD, all in Sociology, at University of Oregon. Then I did a postdoc at Stanford, which was an interdisciplinary postdoc called Organizations and Mental Health, so it was an opportunity for me to bring in studies of organizations to the work that I’d done…. I did my dissertation research on gender and work.
Alana: How did you end up at WSU? What drew you here?
Amy: As my postdoc was winding down, I spent a year living in Berkeley, so I taught at Cal and UC Davis for a year when I was on the job market. Like other recent PhDs I started applying for jobs and I had a preference for staying somewhere on the West Coast. I’d been here for so long and I really didn’t want to go anywhere else. I didn’t want to go back to the Midwest or the East. But I applied all over. The WSU department had a good reputation in Sociology so that attracted me. They were searching for somebody who studied gender and work; obviously that was a perfect fit. There weren’t that many women in the department at the time, so I was a little concerned about that. But Lisa McIntyre was hired at the same time I was, so it helped to have another new assistant professor and woman. I just went through the ranks and eventually moved to Vancouver.
Alana: Can you tell me a little about your time in Pullman generally? Any fun, interesting, or memorable stories?
Amy: Oh, sure! Well, to be honest, the smallness of Pullman really got to me, and I was thinking, “Oh, my god, I can’t stay here. I’m never going to survive here. It’s so small.” There was this joke among my friends that I didn’t unpack for two years after I moved there. The department was good and all that, the environment was really different for me. So, I actually did look for other positions. I had an offer from a university in Atlanta, Emory, and I just felt like I needed to turn down that offer. Part of it was, did I want to move to the South? I don’t know, but I turned it down. About three months later I met my partner, who is now my wife, and we’ve been together for twenty-something years. I don’t know, maybe it was meant to happen that we’d meet in Pullman. So that was all good, and the department was so intellectually alive, it was great. The benefits of being in a smaller place, a smaller town, and a bigger campus were that faculty were around, grad students were around. I was young then, and close to some of the grad students, and the seminars were fun. It was just a really nice environment for intellectual exchange and teaching, especially working with grad students. Those were all really good things.
Alana: So, when did you move to WSU Vancouver? Did the Sociology department already have faculty there, or were you the beginning of that?
Amy: The Vancouver campus was pretty small, and it’s still small, relatively speaking. I was sort of familiar with it because, before I moved over there, I did some distance teaching to students in Vancouver, as people still do now through AMS (Academic Media Services). It was really brand new. Nobody else wanted to do it, and I said, “Oh, I will!” And it was fun because the students were really interesting and a little bit older. I really enjoyed that and knew a little bit about it. And then my wife got a job offer in Portland. We’d just adopted our daughter and wanted to raise her in a bigger city. I was able to work it out with the department chair at that time and with the people in Vancouver to transfer to the Vancouver campus. Clay Mosher, who is still around, he also transferred from Pullman to Vancouver a few years before I did.
Alana: So, the student body is a little bit different at Vancouver than at Pullman?
Amy: Yes, it is. There are no dorms yet—I think there will be some eventually—so it draws students mostly from around the area, often older and a different demographic than many students who go to Pullman for undergraduate studies.
Alana: Tom mentioned that you held some administrative positions at WSU Vancouver. Could talk about those roles and experiences and some of the things you accomplished through those positions.
Amy: Sure! When I moved to Vancouver, I was just getting promoted to full professor and, in the Vancouver College of Arts & Sciences—at that time it was Liberal Arts—there weren’t many senior faculty and there were opportunities to take on some administrative roles. But I never thought I would ever be an administrator. Nobody ever does. No faculty member ever thinks that! But at the same time, I thought, “Oh, I have some ideas about things we could do.” And it was a new campus, still is a pretty new campus. There was just a lot that I thought could be done to help build it. So, I started by getting involved that way. I was the director of the College of Liberal Arts for a time, and then the College of Liberal Arts merged with the College of Sciences, so I was the academic director of the College of Arts and Sciences; the so-called “dean” of the college’s programs on that campus.
Alana: Awesome! You research gender and organizations, so were there any interesting breakthroughs during your career at WSU that were influential in that sub-field of sociology, and/or are there any students that you mentored who became leaders in that sub-field?
Amy: Well, there were some great students. Rebecca Erickson is a professor, not primarily a gender scholar, but she’s an emotions scholar. Our interests overlapped and we published together. She’s a professor of sociology at the University of Akron. Sharon Bird is another person I worked with who is now department chair at Oklahoma State (ed. note: Sharon took a position at West Virginia University shortly after this interview was conducted). She has published a lot on gender and work. Kendal Broad… I mean there is a whole group of students who came out of WSU. Hopefully I’ve had some influence on them or they’ve had an influence on me. There are people I have great memories of working with and I’m still in touch with.
Alana: So, this might be a big question, but what does retirement mean for you?
Amy: Well… you’ll find that people will eventually start asking—once you get to be a certain age—“When are you going to retire?” “Are you going to retire any time soon?” I was thinking, “I don’t know.” I really hadn’t put a date in my mind. I hadn’t really thought about it. But then, last summer or spring, I was talking to somebody else who was going on phased retirement, and after that conversation I was thinking, “You know, maybe I should retire.” Then I just decided one day. As soon as I decided, this big weight lifted off me and it sounded really good. I think part of it is that I have the sociology identity but I also have the administrative identity. And the administrative stuff—I like it in a way. It is fun solving problems and dealing with all the issues that you deal with, especially on a campus like Vancouver because it’s small so you have a feel for a lot of things. But I just felt like I was ready. I’ve told a couple people that I can be a sociologist again in a way. I couldn’t do that very much when I was doing administrative stuff.
So, I don’t have a giant plan for my retirement. I don’t have a list of 20 things to do and have to check them off every day anymore. I like that. I like not having a calendar that I have to look at every day. But people still ask me to do things like review papers and be on panels. I can do the things I want to do, and I just have time to think a little bit more—just take some time for myself, you know, ride my bike. So, I don’t have a big plan, like a master plan, but I like not having a plan. I’m just going to see how it goes and what interests me. And maybe there will be a pathway that I’ll take. I’m actually really happy!
Alana: Is there anything else you want to add about your time at WSU, your favorite parts about the community or anything like that?
Amy: Well, I’ve now spent time on two campuses, so I’ve been at WSU for a long time. But the Sociology department has really been a constant—not in the sense that it hasn’t changed, but I think that it’s been a really bright spot. Interestingly, as an administrator in Arts and Sciences, I knew something about all the programs and Sociology was always one that stood out in terms of collegiality—the way people work together across campuses—so I really appreciated that aspect of the department. I’m always so impressed with all the faculty on both campuses who have been hired over the years.
Alana: Hopefully now that you have time to think, and get away from the administrative stuff, you can really rest.
Amy: Yes, it’s amazing how quickly that stuff leaves your head-space when you retire. Because usually I think, “Oh, god, I have to worry about this or that.” And now I say, “No, I’m not going to worry!” It’s gone.
Congratulations on your retirement, Amy!