Department of Sociology

Real-World Learning

Faculty in the Sociology Department share a commitment to applying sociological principles and concepts through field work and research within community organizations, especially those in the Lowell community. For students, this commitment translates into multiple opportunities for hands-on learning, both inside the classroom and out.

Sociology Students Capture Stories of Young Refugees in Lowell Exhibit

Students in Susan Thomson’s Social Anthropology and Sociology of the Family classes have joined forces on a project that has blossomed into a new exhibit at the Lowell National Historical Park’s Mogan Cultural Center. The exhibit, entitled “Their Stories: Lowell’s Youth and the Refugee Experience”, features the stories of five students who came to Lowell from Bhutan, Burma, Congo, and Iraq.

Thompson Their Stories Youth ExhibitThe students conducted interviews over the course of two semesters to document the oral history of these young peoples’ refugee experiences and eventually created a mural to represent their stories as well. “We did not initially plan on creating the mural,” said Thomson, “but as we worked together in collaboration with Kristin Gallas at the Tsongas Industrial History Center, we came up with this idea.”

The mural, entitled “The Culture Tree”, provides a beautiful visual of these young people’s stories, showing their past while also looking towards an ever-changing future.

Diana Regus, Gyu Bin Lee, Jensen Poutre, Nina Petropoulos, Somaya Rajai, Stephanie Sullivan were all students who contributed to the project. The students who were interviewed about their refugee experiences were all participating in an after-school program at the International Institute, which was directed by Dahvy Tran. 

“Their Stories: Lowell’s Youth and Refugee Experience” is open 1:30-5pm, September 2 through Columbus Day. For more information about the exhibit, please contact or call 978-970-5080.

Students Get Down to Business

SBACStudents Cheryl Kim ’12 and Carley Hallion ’13 spent a semester working with Stacie Hargis at the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center. Stacie, a graduate of the program in Regional Economic and Social Development at UMass Lowell, explained, “because of the difficult budget environment that most non-profit programs face, it is a challenge to be able to do everything we would like – being able to work with UMass Lowell students through this practicum program is invaluable and helps build our capacity.”

The Merrimack Valley Small Business Center provides support and training for local entrepreneurs. Cheryl and Carley were involved in two projects during their practicum experience. First, they interviewed nine small business owners who had received services from MVSBC. They created profiles of these business owners to be posted on the Success Stories page of the organization’s website and also compiled a report of important feedback for MVSBC. Their second project was to contact local community organizations and agencies to explore how to better reach potential entrepreneurs, particularly those in immigrant communities.

Cheryl says that she has gained “real-world workable knowledge” from this experience. Both students emphasize that the experience has given them an opportunity to apply the research and analytical skills they learned in the classroom. Carley said she has especially appreciated being able to learn first-hand about the experiences of local immigrant business owners as well as to become familiar with a range of organizations in the local non-profit community.

Students Learn from Emerging Non-Profit

Anita Saville, Executive Director of Budget Buddies, jokes that her office is a back booth in the Owl Diner. Founded in 2010, Budget Buddies is quickly establishing itself as a leader in offering financial literacy services to low-income women and as an important partner for local community organizations and agencies. Laura Carter ‘13 and Yadira Simon ‘13 have gotten the unique opportunity to be a part of this organization at this early and exciting stage of its development through a practicum in the Sociology Department.

One of the tasks of a new non-profit is to document and evaluate the impact of their program in order to be able to apply for funding. Using skills learned in their Sociological Research courses, Laura and Yadira designed a follow-up survey to be administered to program participants one year after completing the Budget Buddies program. They piloted the survey by interviewing a small group of women who were enrolled in the very first Budget Buddies coaching program, and then analyzed the results in comparison to earlier data collected from this pilot group. Kathryn Brough, Director of Operations, was very grateful to the students for providing the time and expertise to accomplish this task that is “essential” to the development of the organization.

The students were also involved in a number of other projects, including doing outreach to find community partners for Budget Buddies and doing research on best practices in financial literacy. Laura and Yadira, both of whom want to be social workers, said that the practicum provided them with invaluable experience and inspiration. Yadira says, “the experience has opened my eyes to the non-profit world and what it’s like to work with low-income people.” Laura really appreciated that “…this is not one of those internships where you just make copies. We are actually helping them – we have a purpose.”