Keeping up with alums and former faculty
By Don A. Dillman
The alums featured in this issue of WSU Sociology E-News provide examples of how our sociology graduates are making a difference in quite different ways. Sally Bartrum (BA 1971) is winding up a 24-year career as executive director of the Chelan-Douglas (counties) Head Start program that has affected the life chances of children from thousands of families. Cliff Staples (MA 1982, PhD 1985) is completing his 26th year as a sociology faculty member at the University of North Dakota, where he has twice served as the department chair.
David Schaeffer (MA, 1995) coordinated an Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program in Arizona after leaving WSU. He then began his doctoral work at the University of Arizona, and has become a major contributor to the study of how social networks influence human behavior. Scott Sawyer (PhD, 2007) provides an example of the versatility of a sociology advanced degree, and describes his work and impact in a nonprofit organization, The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
Marilyn and Irving Tallman retired as professors emeriti in 1999. Together they provided nearly a half-century of service to the department, providing leadership for teaching and researching issues in family sociology. In addition, each served as department chair (Irving, 1977-80), and Marilyn (1988-96). It is not a surprise to us that their reports provide examples of how intellectual work and contributions continue to be made long after retirement begins and becomes intertwined with other life activities.
Together these reports from alums and former faculty illustrate the various ways former members of our department have made and continue to make a difference in the lives of others.
“After receiving a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1971, I left Pullman to experience Chile’s social revolution. Chile had recently elected a Marxist president and I took the opportunity to conduct research for my master’s in Extension degree. Agrarian reform, and the redistribution of land ownership, provided a unique opportunity to assess how the reform impacted the lives of Chileans and provided the data for my thesis ‘Agrarian Reform in Chile.’ I obtained a master’s degree from WSU in 1974.
“After graduation I was hired as a Community Development Area agent for Pennsylvania State University. During my tenure at Penn State I was responsible for five counties in the Allegheny mountains of Appalachia; highlights during that time were educating community members about the importance of land reform, the establishment of farmers’ markets, and bringing fire protection to rural farms.
“Leaving Pennsylvania and returning home to Washington State, I worked for both WSU and Wenatchee Valley College in a program funded by the Kellogg Foundation called Partnership for Rural Improvement. PRI was an experiment in collaboration between the university, the college, and key community leaders. Some lasting accomplishments during that time were bringing National Public Radio to Chelan and Douglas Counties; a community calendar in the local paper which blossomed into the “GO”, a magazine included in the Thursday’s paper; and drafting opinion surveys for the community hospital and the college which resulted in better services for their clientele.
“Leaving PRI, I moved from community development work to programs that would help our most vulnerable families: writing the grant that funded the first Habitat for Humanity home, obtaining monies for settled out farm worker housing, helping displaced homemakers gain the confidence and job readiness skills so they can live independently, and overseeing a food bank and shelter for victims of domestic violence.
“For the last 24 years I have been the executive director of the Chelan-Douglas Head Start program. When I started at Head Start we had a staff of 35, provided only preschool to 100 four-year-old children, and worked with a budget of $400,000. Our services have since expanded to include ‘birth to three’ and pregnant mothers. Staff size grew to 110; number of families served is close to 400 each year; and the budget is over $4 million.The last three federal reviews resulted in two perfect scores, meaning the program was in total compliance with close to 400 performance and fiscal standards.
“This last October, I was awarded Head Start Director of the Year for Washington State. Recently our state senator toured our main campus and asked what I attributed the success of the program to. I said, ‘Look for their gifts in your employees and place them in positions were they can be successful.’ This coming July, I will be retiring.”
“After leaving Pullman in 1985, I completed post-doctorate experiences at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. That was followed by a tenure-track position at the University of North Dakota where I have been the past 26 years. We have about 10 faculty and a MA program in sociology.
“Throughout my time here I have had the pleasure of working with both undergraduate and graduate students in social theory, political sociology, and social inequalities. My colleagues have always been supportive, and never more so than during my two stints as chair, in 2004-06 and 2010-14. Everyone should do a hitch as chair, if for no other reason than it makes them better colleagues afterwards.
“For the past decade, I have been researching transnational corporate networks and have been fortunate to work with Val Burris, University of Oregon (‘In search of a transnational capitalist class: Alternative methods for comparing director interlocks within and between nations and regions,’ International Journal of Comparative Sociology, August 2012 53: 323-342), and G. William Domhoff, University of California, Santa Cruz (‘Interlocks and Interactions Among the Power Elite: The Corporate Community, Think Tanks, Policy-Discussion Groups, and Government,’ G. William Domhoff, Clifford Staples, & Adam Schneider).
“In the coming years I plan to return to my life-long interests in philosophy, social theory, and theology. This past spring semester I enjoyed teaching a class on “Happiness” in which we read among others Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Josef Pieper, a very interesting but much less known contemporary of Habermas.
“My wife, Lorraine, is a computer guru at the local hospital and we like to play golf and guitars and travel (to Costa Rica to go surfing and birding is a favorite). My 22-year-old Caitlin will graduate from UND in vocal performance and psychology in December. As I write, she is on her way back from a trip to Cuba with the UND Concert Choir. And speaking of kids… as I think back about my days at WSU what I remember most is how patient everyone was with me. The faculty treated me like I was one of their own kids, something I in turn have tried to practice with my students and model for younger colleagues.
“While our students are not our kids they most certainly are someone’s kids, and, so, treating them as we might want our own to be treated can’t be a bad thing. I have my mentors at WSU to thank for passing on that wisdom. Among them I must mention Vik Gecas, Milt Rokeach, Don Dillman, Joe DeMartini, Armand Mauss, Gene Rosa, Scott Long, Mike Allen, and Lew Carter.
“I am no longer the only WSU alum in Sociology at the University of North Dakota. Justin Berg joined us about four years ago. Justin has been a great addition to our department, bringing an approachable teaching style along with his interesting and timely research on immigration attitudes. Send more WSU alums!
“I have fond memories of Pullman, of WSU, and the rolling hills of the Palouse. I hope to get back for a visit at some point.”
David arrived at WSU in 1995, and after attending his first Lentil Festival fell in love with the Palouse. He completed his MA in 1998 and moved to Arizona State University (ASU) where he coordinated the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program for Phoenix and Tucson. David recalled that “collecting data from arrestees (including urine samples) was pretty far removed from working in the SESRC, but the principles learned at WSU informed my work and made us one of the top data collection sites.”
David returned to school and completed his PhD in Sociology at the University of Arizona. Following in the footsteps of Tom Rotolo, he studied social networks with Miller McPherson, and also worked with Linda Molm to investigate social exchange processes related to trust, power, and solidarity in networks. David has been a faculty member at ASU since 2006 and is currently housed in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. His research focuses on testing theoretical mechanisms behind social network formation and change. David’s contributions to the study of social networks were recognized with the Linton C. Freeman Award in 2012 by the International Network for Social Network Analysis.
In reflecting on his time at WSU, David notes that “I struggled to make the transition from consuming knowledge to producing knowledge. I was in awe of how professors were able to develop such compelling research questions, but had no idea where they came from and no confidence that I could do it myself. I was lucky enough to work for Don Dillman on a study that incorporated a methodological experiment. Though quaint now, our email survey helped me to see for the first time how a research project is conceptualized, executed, and ultimately published. I’m grateful for this experience as it helped me see that I could do research and guided me to where I am today.”
“My academic focus at WSU was on environmental sociology and I’ve had the opportunity to put my knowledge to use at a nonprofit organization in Vermont—Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF)—where I’ve lived since 2004, while finishing my dissertation. I’m happy to share some of my experiences working at a nonprofit for nearly 10 years.
“The WSU years were great because of the fantastic, funny friends I met, the comprehensive skills I acquired, and, despite its seeming isolation, Pullman was a great launching pad for experiencing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Although I had gone into graduate school imagining an academic career, I found that I ultimately wanted something that felt grounded in the everyday experiences of people and organizations trying to create a more sustainable world.
“Finding a job at a nonprofit can be a bit of a random experience—it’s not like many nonprofits know that they need a staff sociologist! But they do! One of the first calls I made was to VSJF and the executive director at the time was looking for some help evaluating the grants they had given to sustainable agriculture and renewable energy organizations. I was able to say that I had learned to do survey research in graduate school. That seemed to do the trick. I would recommend young people think about a nonprofit path but undertake a more comprehensive scan of potential organizations than I did: invite staff to lunch, build relationships with the people where you want to live, and share with them the value of your powerful research, analysis, and writing skills (which all nonprofits need).
“The fun thing about working for a nonprofit is the freedom I’ve had to creatively apply concepts learned in graduate school to the systems we’re trying to change. As the lead writer and editor of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, which is widely viewed as the most comprehensive food system initiative of its kind in the United States, I drew upon emeritus professor Lee Freese’s ‘Environmental Connections,’ which did a brilliant job of illustrating how energy flows from ecosystems through human societies. That model of ‘human ecology’ is at the heart of all of VSJF’s efforts. VSJF staff can also articulate familiar sociological concepts like the ‘treadmill of production,’ ‘structuration,’ and the ‘architecture of markets’; and all of these concepts help us do a better job of understanding the opportunities and constraints inherent in systems change.
“Another cool thing is being able to analyze, visually depict, and disseminate tons of data in a very quick timeframe, as we’ve done with the 25 goals of Farm to Plate. Overall, the mental toolkit I developed at WSU helped me become a valuable asset to Vermont’s nonprofit community.
“I’m happy to talk with grad students considering nonprofit work and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marilyn writes: “I recall with a great deal of nostalgia my 24 years with the Department of Sociology: eight of them as chair (1988-96). I arrived in the fall of 1975, joining a department of 27 full- and part-time faculty. (And it brings so much pleasure when our WSU colleagues come through town and stop to visit.) Throughout those years, as to this day, the department enjoyed the reputation as one of the most productive and prestigious departments in the university.
“My own research while at WSU was focused on family sociology, specifically remarriage and stepparenting. With my colleague Kay Pasley in the Department of Child and Family studies (now, Human Development) in the early 1980s, we were on the cutting edge of this area of study. The small number of other scholars researching this topic in those years provided us with great colleagueship and much fun at various professional meetings.
“Since retiring on December 31, 1999, I have continued to research family issues. Another colleague, Teresa Cooney (now chair at the University of Colorado, Denver), and I coauthored a family textbook: Families in Context. It was my long-time wish to write the family text that I wanted to teach from! Not easy to do that while being chair, so I took it on after retirement.
“Even now my interests continue to center on families. On the 13th birthday of each of my grandchildren (nine of them) I have presented them with a photo album containing the story of each of the families that came before them (thank you Ancestry.com). The first one, completed in 2001, I must say was rather skimpy, containing only parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Since I joined Ancestry my research has expanded and for each new project I have flushed out relatives further and further back in time: currently as far as the early-1500s. The eighth book I just finished contained 13 generations on both father’s and mother’s sides of the family.
“With two of my children and two of their children, I traveled to Sweden two years ago and looked up the Swedish branch of the family on the island of Gotland (with the exceedingly superior help from our Swedish AFS daughter who lived with us in 1980-81). She was our translator and opened many doors for us as we searched and found information on that line of ancestors. Knocking on the door of the parish of Burs Church and touring the home where my great-great-great grandparents raised their nine children was an awesome experience. I love discovering the stories that hide between the facts of immigration or state of birth, and birth, marriage, children’s births, number of children, and death dates. To keep the books creative I also put in maps, a little history, and poems I write that center around a theme that reflects each child’s particular interests. Of course I know that at age 13 this gift is ‘sort of’ interesting, but, if they keep it, at age 50 they will appreciate it. Their parents certainly spend hours reading and exclaiming!
“During these retirement years, Irv and I have also traveled a great deal: to Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa, Alaska, and most recently, Australia and New Zealand. I can truly say that retirement has met all my expectations. I wish the same for you.”
Irving writes: “I can’t believe it is 15 years since Marilyn and I left the Palouse and moved to the Bay Area. Since I was raised and educated here, the change has been a very happy one. But nothing is perfect and there are times when I miss my days at WSU. I think back fondly on the conversations, discussions, and debates I had with colleagues and graduate students. I remember the Sociology department as a community of productive scholars and full of intellectual ferment.
“In the first five years after retirement I had seven articles published—four of which were co-authored with colleagues and/or graduate students. My last article, and unwittingly my last contribution to the sociological literature, was co-authored with Ying-Ling Hsiao, who was also my last graduate advisee. She is currently Chair of Sociology Department at Yu Jen University in Taiwan. I devoted the next three years attempting to write a trade book describing the essential elements of my research in more popular language. Sadly for me I was unable to find an agent interested in selling the book. After I recovered from this disappointment, I wrote a small book mainly for my children and grandchildren describing my parent’s transitions from Europe to America.
“I can’t leave this review with the impression that all or even most of our retirement was devoted to scholarly endeavors. We have made ample use of this area’s cultural and physical advantages. We have also taken four trips to Europe (two to France and two to Scandinavia), and spent a fascinating three weeks in South Africa. Unfortunately health problems made it impossible for me to join Marilyn on her trip to Australia and New Zealand. But spending my old age in this area is not bad.”