Why I Am Majoring in Sociology: Perspectives from 3 current students

By Alana Inlow

Students become WSU sociology majors for a variety of reasons. They also come from a variety of backgrounds, seeking a match between their interests, skills, and future aspirations.

After graduating, our students go into several different sectors of the work force. Some go into social services, others into law and/or law enforcement, and still others into private industry.

There is no typical sociology major. Each has come to the department for different reasons. Here, three current sociology majors, Alyssa Newton, Hayley Garnick, and Amy Cox, decided to major in sociology. They share in their own words what attracted them to, and kept them in, sociology.

Alyssa Newton: “My goal is to serve people.” 

I am a first-generation college student who grew up in western Washington. I did running-start in high school, so I took my first sociology class at a community college in Olympia, and just loved it. When I got to Pullman, I decided to take more sociology classes, and fell in love with the major.

A photo of Alyssa Newton.
Alyssa Newton

Now, I am intern with Child Protective Services, which I find difficult but enjoyable, and this is the kind of thing I hope is in my future. I shadow social workers, go on ride-along experiences, and also get to go to court and learn about investigations and foster care placements.

Eventually I want to go get a master’s degree. I’m not quite sure what I want to do after I graduate. But I know that I want to work now and apply to graduate school later, perhaps getting a master’s in social work and eventually going into family counseling.

My favorite sociology class has been Social Deviance (SOC 360), taught by Dr. Kristin Cutler. I love learning how people think and interact, as well as getting a broader perspective on the world. I have also enjoyed my Juvenile Delinquency (SOC 362) class.

I am enrolled in the Youth-At-Risk minor, which included the social deviance class as well as the sociology of family course taught by Dr. Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson. These courses fit with my interest in working with child protective services and youth in the future. Those classes were probably my favorite because they focused on the family and children.

I considered other majors than sociology. I thought about political science because it might prepare me to have more of an impact on people. But my thoughts turned back to sociology and how I can actually serve individuals and have a direct impact on people’s lives.

My goal is to serve people, and I think sociology is super helpful in understanding social policy, as we discuss in classes. I really enjoy sociology. I love it and talk to everybody about it!

Hayley Garnick: “I see the world differently as a result of sociology.”

I am a senior and will graduate in May. I came to WSU from the Bay Area in California and learned about WSU because in high school I was interested in becoming a veterinarian and learned there was a good vet program here. It is one of the best in the nation. Then, when I got here, as a biology major, I didn’t like the classes, so I ended up looking for something different.

A photo of Hayley Garnick smiling at the camera.
Hayley Garnick

I started reading about sociology online. In high school they didn’t teach sociology or anything like that, so I had no idea what it was. As I was reading about it, the topics sounded really interesting, and I learned that you could also become a teacher after being a sociology major if you went on to get at least a master’s degree. I wanted something that would be more applicable for something like real life, rather than looking at bugs and plants all day.

Sociology classes have taught me a lot about how society works, and I think that it’s really beneficial to know about these kinds of social processes. I now see the world differently as a result. Sociology opens up your eyes to see why certain people live in one place compared to another, or why people go to different schools, or have different college experiences. Knowing about sociological issues seems applicable to any career that I could think of pursuing.

The Capstone sociology class (SOC 495/497) changed my perspective on what kind of skills I’m learning. It’s not just thinking, ‘Oh, I know racial differences in who gets educated.’ As a sociology major, I have learned skills such as working with others, working with data, statistical analysis, and critical thinking. I have also learned writing and communication skills. Those seem applicable to many different post-college jobs. I do not yet know what field of work I want to go into after college, but I feel confident about the usefulness of the skills that I am learning.

After I graduate, I want to go back to California. I may go back and get my master’s in teaching and then I’d want to be a high school teacher. For right now, it’s just to move back and see what kind of jobs I’m able to find with the education I have.

One of my favorite classes was SOC 350, Social Inequality with Dr. Julie Kmec. It provided a broad overview of all sorts of different social problems, including education, housing, race issues, and gender issues. That was one of my first classes I took as a sociology major and it got me really interested in the field. I also liked the capstone class because Dr. Sarah Whitley showed us many ways that sociology skills are applicable to jobs besides social research. It was really cool to learn about them. We learned to build résumés and cover letters, do mock interviews, and build other skills that prepare us for life after college.

I am minoring in psychology, which is closely related to sociology. A lot of the concepts we talk about in psychology classes remind me of things that we’ve also talked about in sociology classes. The focus is just on a different level, being focused more on individuals than group behaviors. That minor allowed me to take classes about kids, their development and behavior problems, which should be really helpful if I become a teacher.

Amy Cox: “The most useful thing I have learned from sociology is how to connect with people.”

I am a junior here, a non-traditional student, returning to finish my degree. I currently work as a university development coordinator, which I have done for more than 15 years. I’ve spent the last four years finishing my bachelor’s degree.

A photo of Amy Cox and her two children standing outside and smiling at the camera.
Amy Cox (middle) with her children.

I started my secondary education career at another university and took a break to re-focus. I was an accounting major but needed a hiatus. I then got married, spent 20 years raising kids and family, and then decided to go back to school to give myself opportunities for career advancement. But I knew I didn’t want to go into accounting. Numbers are super easy for me, but they’re boring.

The Sociology 101 introduction course was absolutely fascinating. It scared me to death at first because there were six papers, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, how am I going to write six papers after being out of college for 25 years?’ But I absolutely loved it, and just having the thought of how our society influences people’s behaviors really spurred my interest.

I have two siblings. My sister and I are both fairly successful. She works for a large corporation. But our brother died from alcoholism a few years ago. Yet, we all grew up in the same house. So, how do three kids that grow up in the same family end up on completely different paths as they get older? And what other influences affected my brother’s decisions in life? Learning about theories, peer influences, and institutional influences spurred my interest and pushed me toward a sociology degree. So, when I’m looking now at why I’m majoring in sociology and why my minor is in at-risk-youth, it’s partially because I am trying to understand how early life circumstances can influence young people to go in different directions, some of which are unfortunate.

I have been working in philanthropy at WSU for the last 14 years and I absolutely love it. I would like to stay in this area of work. Having the opportunity to help people fulfill their philanthropic endeavors is really fulfilling to me. I would love to work for an organization that either works with at at-risk youth or adolescent addiction. Being able to bring an awareness of these issues to help fund-raise, while also addressing the interests of donors, is fulfilling work.

The most useful thing I have learned from sociology is how to connect with people. Understanding how a person’s life has influenced their decision making is helpful to me. Knowing these kinds of things helps me understand how people may respond to different situations that they come across. And I know in my specific position, having a sociology degree has opened my mind to how socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and other things influence people’s behaviors. I’m also going to add the Workplace Diversity minor because it’ll be great for my career path.

Some classes have really inspired me. My favorite classes are always with professors who are really passionate about what they are researching and what they do, like Drs. Kmec and Whitley. When you have a professor that can stand in front of a classroom and have a student ask a question that might be a little bit off topic, and they answer that question with passion because they’ve researched something for so long, it’s inspiring to me, and I love that engagement.

Dr. Kmec’s gender & work course (SOC 390) was especially fascinating, because I’ve been in the workforce for so long. And then Dr. Whitley’s classes taught me about kids growing up, how they are educated, and the effects of social and economic class on that process. It’s their combined passions for teaching and research on those issues that I most appreciate.

Sociology News is grateful to these three sociology majors for sharing their paths into sociology and how their experiences are preparing them for the future.