Undergraduate Highlights

Interviews conducted by Alana Inlow

Alexandra (Alex) Donnici

Sociology and criminal justice major
Currently serving as a Washington State Senate intern for the 2020 legislature in Olympia

Alex is looking away from the camera and speaking into a microphone. She is wearing a blue jacket and blouse. There are two people sitting behind her.
Alex speaking during a mock Senate Floor Session among the intern program. Alex was introducing and advocating for an amendment that she proposed (and successfully passed) on a bill relating to student athlete compensation.

Alana: I want to ask you about your internship. Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson, the chair of our department, mentioned that you were doing this internship and that it was a pretty prestigious thing, so I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about it and how you became interested in it.

Alex: Every intern is assigned to a member office. So, I was assigned to Senator O’Ban out of the  28th legislative district, so that’s Tacoma, a little bit of Pierce County, Steilacoom, that area, and I do a lot of work here reaching out to constituents, writing talking points, just basically doing whatever I can to make the member’s life as easy as possible so that lots of legislating can get done. I found out about this from my adviser, and at first, I was not even thinking anything about it. It seemed very political science oriented, definitely not something that I would have thought I’d be doing. But, the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that my interests with sociology and the criminal justice system aligned really well with the legislature and making laws, because that’s how all of that happens. So, I looked at when the information session was, and I attended that, and I was really interested there because I’m a fan of things that are very hands-on, real-world practice, that sort of thing, and this was exactly that. So, I looked into the application process and it was fairly straightforward, so I decided to just give it a shot and apply. After I applied, I got more and more and more interested in it, and next thing I know, I was really, really hoping that I would be able to get in. So, here I am!

Alana: Awesome! Congratulations, it is a big accomplishment. And what year in school are you?

Alex: It’s my second year in college, but I’m a junior credit-wise. But this was actually my first year at WSU because I’m a transfer student.

Alana: Wow, that’s a lot of different things going on for your first year here. The other thing I wanted to ask you about, and this is not switching gears entirely, but a little bit, is how you did you get interested in majoring in sociology?

Alex looking away from the camera, walking behind a legislative member, who is sitting. Alex is holding a stack of papers. She is wearing a white jacket, and a white, black, and blue blouse.
Alex acting as page on the Washington Senate floor. Interns are instructed to walk on a set path without interrupting action or being seen on TVW (WA State Public Affairs Network). Here, Alex was making sure she wouldn’t accidentally appear in a TV shot as the Majority Floor Leader stood to make a motion.

Alex: I’m from Colorado, and in my high school there was this semester program where you did a half-year psychology class and a half-year sociology class, and it was only available your senior year. Before that I wanted to be a criminal justice or psychology major, but neither of those totally fit what I wanted to do. So, when I took the sociology class, I found that I was really good at it, I really enjoyed it, and it just kind of clicked for me. So, I did a year at the University of Colorado first. Their sociology program wasn’t as developed, but I still found myself really liking it. So, I decided to make the transfer up to WSU and started investing a lot more energy into it here. It just is something that I think really clicks for me and I really enjoy it.

Alana: So, you’re interested in criminal justice and that route? Have you taken any criminal justice classes from the CJ department?

Alex: Yeah. UC Boulder didn’t have any type of criminal justice department at all, so, unfortunately because, of credits I had to wait to become a criminal justice major. Last semester I focused mostly on sociology and I took basic intro criminal justice classes. But hopefully next semester when I come back, I’ll be able to take more of those.

Alana: This might be a difficult question, and you can take time to think about it, but what I like to ask our undergraduate majors is, what does sociology mean to you? And what does being a sociologist mean to you?

Alex: Sociology, to me, is understanding people and understanding how people influence each other, and it’s beyond the obvious level of social institutions and things like that. But also, a lot of it for me is—why is this world that I’m living in the way that it is? And these things that I want to see changed in it, how can I do that, being a person, living in this world, interacting with other people? So, I think that’s kind of what it is for me—kind of getting to recognize those patterns and use them to your advantage. To me it’s kind of like, especially here in the political realm, I’ve noticed a lot of times that skill, and watching people who have that skill, it’s kind of like a game of chess, kind of getting to use those patterns to your advantage.

Alana: That’s a great answer! Are you looking to stay in the political realm, or do you have an idea of what you want to do after college?

Alex: Before I came here, I thought for sure that I was just going to go work in the criminal justice field and maybe pursue a PhD or that sort of thing. But since being here, I’ve found that I really love it. And there is a lot more that I want to do here and there are so many more positions that I want to try and involve myself in and different projects I want to work on and things like that. So, before this internship I would have said straight to grad school and the criminal justice system, but now I don’t really have an idea because there is just so much that interests me. You know, I’m just not quite sure what to choose at this point.

Alex shown standing in the middle of several desks where legislative members are sitting and working. Alex is passing out papers. She is wearing a white jacket and a white, blue, and black blouse.
As an intern, Alex had the opportunity to act as a Senate page during late night floor sessions. Here, she was passing a copy of a new amendment draft to Senator Wilson.

Alana: Well that’s a good problem to have!

Alex: Exactly! Yeah, I’d love to stay in the political realm, but I’d also love to work in the criminal justice realm. Hopefully, those things can merge, and I’ll be able to do something with both of those.

Alana: So, last thing I want to ask is, do you have any favorite sociology classes or sociology professors that you’ve had here, at WSU, yet?

Alex: Oh, that’s hard because they’re all so good! That’s so tricky. I’m really into statistics so for me the research methods course was really cool because we got to do a lot of research and that class has helped me a lot in my internship here. So, I think that one is definitely one I liked the most. Even though the class itself was sometimes challenging and the group project aspect was challenging, but what I took out of that class has definitely helped a lot here.

One thing I was really afraid of, coming into this internship, was the fact that I had no political experience. I was somewhat into politics a little bit, civic engagement was a thing for me growing up, but I’ve never taken a political science class in my life, definitely not economics either or anything like that. So, I was so worried that coming into this internship, I was just going to be that intern who didn’t know anything, and that one girl who didn’t belong here, and my office was going to realize how underqualified I was. But I’ve discovered that my unique experience here is actually a strength and it sets me apart from the other interns because I’m not coming at this from, “Oh, here’s all these political science classes and here’s what my professors said about political science,” and that sort of thing. But I’m coming at it from the people perspective which is very effective in a people-based arena like this.

Erika Dvorak

Sociology major
Math, German, and At-Risk-Youth minors

Alana: Tell me about your minors.

Erika: I have three minors. I was originally a physics major so I kind of just picked up a math minor in doing that. When I switched to sociology, I had one math class left to finish my minor, so I thought, “might as well!” And then I have a German minor, that was for the Honors College; you have to take two years of language, and I wanted to study abroad so, I kind of knocked that out pretty quickly. I did a summer study for that. And then I have an at-risk-youth minor, which was easy to just fit into my sociology major without taking any extra classes. I accidentally ended up with a lot of minors!

Erika is shown sitting on grass, hugging her golden retriever. Both Erika and her dog are looking at the camera and smiling.
Erika Dvorak with her dog, Acacia.

Alana: Where are you from and what made you decide to come to Pullman and get into sociology?

Erika: I’m from Vancouver, Washington. I applied to a few really prestigious universities for undergrad, and I didn’t have a lot of direction, so I didn’t get into any of them because I thought I was studying physics and I obviously was not passionate about it, but I thought I was. I think they could kind of read through my essays that I didn’t know what I was talking about and wasn’t super into it. So, this was the only place I got into because I applied to Brown and Columbia, and the crazy ones, because I was, you know, being really smart about it [*sarcasm*]. But yeah, I have family who work here. I have family who are professors in the biosciences—so way not what I’m doing. But it was kind of nice to come here and have a support system already. So, that’s kind of how I ended up here.

How I ended up doing sociology was, I mean, I was studying physics and I was realizing that there was so much sexism in the physics program, and I was encountering a lot of that, and then I thought, this isn’t what I want to do. And I realized if I went forward with my STEM major, I would really only be happy if I was working in a woman-run lab that was also working on things that had an activism bent to it, like environmentalism or something. And I thought, “Oh! I must not actually be passionate about physics.” I’m mostly passionate about people and changing the world. I was asking all these sociological questions already because there was so much sexism going on, and I was thinking “Why are these things happening?” So, it was kind of a logical step for me to switch out of that.

Alana: What are some of your favorite sociology classes and professors?

Erika: Oh, my goodness. I am not a criminology person really at all, but I LOVED Dr. Jen Schwartz’s criminology class. She’s so cool. And I also love working with Dr. Julie Kmec, she’s my Honors advisor. So, I’ve worked closely with her. She’s super cool, she’s always supportive, she has a lot of knowledge base for what I want to do. She’s a great resource. I took a class last semester in the CES department—it’s not really sociology but related. It was a prison industrial complex class, and the professor studies racism so all his classes have a bend towards that, specifically racism against black people. That class was really cool, so I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get into that stuff.

Alana: What does sociology mean to you and what does it mean to be a sociologist to you?

Erika: I feel like at its core it is open-mindedness. Because I feel like people who don’t think sociologically look at things very black and white and kind of think, “Oh, you’re making this choice, you must be at fault for your situation.” And sociology takes the broader context and it’s kind of like radical forgiveness almost. I feel like it’s the kindest study that there is because people are so much put into the context of their situations, and it’s just trying to understand people from the basic idea that nobody is doing awful things because they want to do awful things. Which is kind of an optimistic look at things and I kind of like to have that worldview.

Alana: Do you know what you’re doing next?

Erika: My current plan is grad school. I got into a couple sociology programs so far; there are three more that I’m waiting to hear back from. But I got in here [WSU], I got into UC Davis and the University of Delaware. I’m going to visit Delaware in a couple weeks.

Alana: Have you ever been to Delaware? Have you ever been to the East Coast?

Erika: No, I haven’t ever been to Delaware! I’ve been to New York for a couple days.

Alana: Well, it’s somewhere over there.

Erika: Yeah, it’s in the region (laughter).

Alana: Well, maybe you’ll fall in love with it!

Erika: Yeah, I mean it’s five years. I didn’t think I could survive four years here [in Pullman] because I’m from Vancouver, Washington, Portland is like my home town, I was really not jazzed about going to the middle of nowhere and being here for four years. But I ended up finding a really great community and I’m really happy here, so I’m not afraid anymore about picking a place that I think I hate. Because I thought I hated Pullman and I actually really love it.

Alana: Do you have an idea of what you’re going to study or what kind of research area you’re interested in?

Erika: Gender is my big thing. I’m looking at a lot of different facets of it right now, so I’m not fully locked down. But I’m really interested in sexual assault from the perspective of the perpetrator more. I think a lot of studies ask, “How do we decrease sexual assault by doing things differently for the victims?” Which is good, but, also, the perpetrators are really the people who need to be addressed because they’re the ones doing it. So, I would like to study that area. I am really interested in gender socialization as a concept and how the power structures of the patriarchy are upheld. So, it’s cool stuff!