Keeping up with our alums

Keeping up with our alums

By Don Dillman

In each issue of Sociology E-News we feature news from our alums as well as former staff and faculty.  In this issue we caught up with three of our doctoral degree recipients, from three different departmental eras. We would love to hear what you have been up to! Please send information about yourself directly to Don Dillman at

Richard R. FernándezRichard R. Fernández (PhD ’76), Professor, Northern Arizona University

After completing his PhD in 1976, Rich worked two years at WSU in program evaluation for a W.K. Kellogg grant called the Partnership for Rural Improvement. In September of 1978, his career started in the Department of Sociology & Social Work at Northern Arizona University (NAU) where he has enjoyed teaching, research and administration for more years than he cares to remember. When asked about his time at NAU, Rich comments:

“In my early years at NAU two colleagues and I established the Social Research Laboratory (SRL) focusing upon applied sociological research, and this has morphed into what is now known as the Laboratory for Applied Social Research (LASR).  These two labs have offered many research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to experience lessons doing practical social research. Most recently we worked with the city to gather resident opinions for the Flagstaff Regional Plan 2012. I continue to enjoy teaching and research in this setting.  My teaching has emphasized community, organizations, research methods and every student’s favorite, statistics. My wife and I love Flagstaff where we have raised three children and now enjoy a granddaughter and four grandsons.”

John C. AllenJohn C. Allen (PhD ’89), Dean, Utah State University

John Allen (PhD ’89) is the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor of Sociology at Utah State University. His research has focused on the social dimensions of community development including social and economic entrepreneurship, technological change, public lands management, rapid population growth and energy development. John was a faculty member at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focusing on rural development for 13 years before moving to Utah State to become Director of the Western Rural Development Center.  Before working at UN-L he was an assistant professor at the University of New England in Maine. He became founding dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2010.

John has over 120 publications including one book, Against All Odds: Rural Community in the Information Age, Westview Press, 1994, which he co-authored with Don Dillman. His rural development work has been highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, national television such as ABC, NBC and CNN, as well as the New York Times and media throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, and Peru. He was also recognized as an eminent scholar and participated in the visiting fellows program in Australia.

When he has time he continues to analyze how social relationship structures at the community level facilitate collective decision making. His primary interest at this point in his career is the role of community in civil society. He has completed studies in Utah, China, and Taiwan to compare how social networks have similar or dissimilar structures and how they may influence local decision making. His work has always included a basic science component and an applied focus. He has been involved for 30 years in federal, state and local policy development as it relates to rural people and places. He is also an active board member of several non-profit organizations in the United States.

His favorite memories of WSU are learning how to get better than a 50% response rate with mail surveys and conducting field interviews in small towns in the Palouse.

Lorie HigginsLorie Higgins (PhD ’01), Associate Professor and Community Development Extension Specialist, University of Idaho

Lorie left Pullman before finishing her PhD to work for a year as a sabbatical replacement at Whitman College in Walla Walla.  While there she was awarded an EPA Science to Achieve Results Fellowship to complete her doctoral work on collaborative natural resource decision-making in southwest Montana. In 2002 she accepted a community development position in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at the University of Idaho. She comments:

“I was drawn to the opportunity to work closely with communities around Idaho, and I loved the idea of being back on the Palouse! With an 80% Extension, 20% research appointment, I spend a great deal of time traveling around Idaho to work with struggling rural communities. My programs touch on many of the issues facing small towns in the West: conflict over natural resources, economic development, community leadership, and regional and community collaboration.”

Lorie is also adjunct faculty with WSU’s Community and Economic Development Extension unit that engages her in collaborations across state lines. One of the projects she is currently working on is titled “Two Degrees Northwest: Where Art Meets the Land,” a regional economic development effort that focuses on marketing and development across multiple sectors, including food, art and heritage. This program has produced an artisan trail guide for nine counties in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington, a web site (, art business training, and a microloan program for small, rural businesses in partnership with Kiva Zip (

Lorie works hard to educate the public about rural communities. In her own words, “There is a lot of grief and anger out there – they’ve been dealt a bad hand.  So it’s great to be able to inject positive strategies and ideas into the mix and see them help transform hopelessness to determination.” For more information about Dr. Higgins’ programs email her at or visit