Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University
WSU Department of Sociology Sociology News

What do parental support, nuclear war-making, Mexican migration, smart grids, coal waste, and food production have in common?

At first glance, it might appear that dissertation topics for students who have completed PhDs during the past year, have very little in common. Yet, they do. All utilize sociological perspectives for understanding human behavior being provided by faculty in both graduate and undergraduate classes.

Two graduating PhD students, Jose Collazo, to the left, and Valerie Adrian, to the right, stand with their professor, Julie Kmec, who is standing in the center, all three are wearing commencement regalia and are standing together outside, after the graduation ceremony, all three are smiling at the camera.
Collazo (left) and Adrian (right) with Prof. Julie Kmec, who hooded them at Commencement 2018.

During the last academic year more than 50 sociology degrees were granted at WSU—Bachelor of Arts degrees were earned by 47 undergraduate students on the Pullman and Vancouver campuses, Master of Arts degrees went to two students, and seven students completed Doctor of Philosophy degrees. The diversity of topical interests is complemented by sociology students’ being prepared for a variety of employment destinations.

The PhD was conferred in May 2018 for Jose Collazo for his research on “Mexican Migrants in the United States: Factors Influencing Earnings, Remittances and Returning to the Motherland.” Valerie Adrian received her degree in the same graduation ceremony for her dissertation, “Parental Support of Millennials and the Post-Graduate Job Search.”

Collazo currently holds a position as sociology instructor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and California State University, San Bernardino.

Adrian now works at the Clackamas County (Oregon) Department of Community Corrections She is the department’s first policy, performance, and research analyst. Her position involves analyzing and reporting on program quality and recommending improvements for all facets of community corrections, including pre-trial assessments and diversions, probation, parole, and transition into the community.

Alumni Feng Hao, standing to the left, Kyle Knight, standing in the center, and Pierce Greenberg, to the right, are standing together at the 2018 ASA meeting in Philadelphia, all three are smiling at the camera.Pierce Greenberg (PhD ’18) completed his dissertation, “Disproportionality and Coal Waste in Appalachia,” and began work in September as an assistant professor of sociology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Greenberg is pictured here (right) with two other recent WSU graduates whose research and teaching interests are in environmental sociology: Feng Hao (PhD ’15, left), now an assistant professor at University of South Florida, Sarasota; and Kyle Knight (PhD ’12), an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. The trio reconnected at the 2018 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Four other dissertations were completed this summer and fall:

Lauren Scott (PhD ’18) finished in August “The Pursuit of Smart Grid: New Tools of the Trade.” Her dissertation is featured in another article in this issue of Sociology News. In October she began work as a study director in the WSU Social and Economic Sciences Research Center.

Also, in August, Michael Lengefeld (PhD ’18), completed his dissertation, “Nuclear War-Making and the Treadmill of Destruction Mechanism: Exterminism and Environmental Inequality in the United States and Soviet Union.”

In September, Ashley Colby (PhD ’18) returned to Pullman to successfully defend her dissertation, “Structures and Meanings in Subsistence Food Production: A Pluralistic, Horizontal, Post-Capitalist Social Movement in the Global North.” Colby continues as co-director of the Rizoma Field School in Colonia, Uruguay. She co-founded the school in 2016. Her work on establishing this organization was featured in the Winter 2018 issue of Sociology News.

Also last month, Brice Darras (PhD ’18) successfully defended his dissertation on, “Vulnerability to Power Outage Events by Race, Ethnicity, Poverty and Environment.”

Jerrid Higgins (MA ’18), whose master’s thesis was titled “The Role of Social Cohesion in Food Systems,” has begun work as the Produce Safety Program inspector for eastern Washington with the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Jesse Mendiola (MA ’18) returned to his home in California this summer after completing his master’s thesis, “Pro-Environmental Behaviors, Belief in Individual Responsibility to Protect the Environment, and Social Class: A Qualitative Exploration.”

These theses and dissertations, some of which are highly quantitative and others that rely on qualitative methods, provide insights into the causes and consequences of varying human and organizational behaviors. The theme most evident in the work of this year’s graduate students was environmental issues, although understanding food systems and work place hiring also were investigated. A significant aspect of most of these analyses concerned the causes and consequences of social inequality.

Some graduate students pursue interests they brought with them to WSU at the beginning of their graduate programs; others develop interests in their specific topics after being exposed to new ideas in their graduate courses. As a faculty, we enjoy seeing how students combine previous as well as new interests and capabilities, and we look forward to observing each cohort of graduate students develop ideas for study.