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Ria Van Ryn

Ph.D. 2011

     I earned my Ph.D. in Sociology from UNC Chapel Hill in May 2011.  What has endured most from my experience in UNC Sociology is undoubtedly the power and influence of female peers and mentors.

My cohort entered the program in August 2004.  We immediately noticed our unique status as an overwhelmingly female group.  As budding sociologists, we discussed this social fact openly and worked to show how we and the Department would benefit from our difference.  We embraced vulnerability and leaned on one another for support and encouragement, both in terms of academics and our personal lives. We also took on ‘honorary’ members from other cohorts who had not felt this level of support in their own situations.  Some of my dearest friendships today began in this remarkable group of women and allies.

I began my graduate work at UNC committed to a teaching-focused career.  In my time as a graduate student, I taught six different classes in a row, against the prevailing recommendation, and also taught eighth graders as part of my dissertation work.  As I neared my dissertation defense, I had an eerie feeling that an academic career was not in the cards for me, both due to availability of the kinds of jobs I wanted to pursue and my passion for the classroom.

Much to my surprise, I lived the myth of the one-year Visiting Assistant Professor listing transforming into a tenure-track offer after the campus visit!  I moved to New York in August 2011 to begin as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Yeshiva University. It was my time at YU, where I also benefited tremendously from the gifts of female colleagues, that I confirmed that I would find truly full-time teaching to be a better way of doing my sociological work.

I moved to St. Louis, where I grew up and my family lives, and transitioned to secondary teaching. I have been teaching at Parkway South High School since August 2014, first as a student teacher, then in the social studies department, and now in what I hope is my permanent place in the English department. Once again, I have found a professional home surrounded by women who are generous masters at their craft.  I live with my daughter, Schuyler, within spitting distance of my sisters and parents.

As I support my high school students now, I look back to the guidance I received at UNC.  Lisa Pearce modeled patience and flexibility as I veered from path to path. Charlie Kurzman taught me balance and the value of a wide lens.  Andy Perrin invested heavily in best practices of teaching. From Cathy Zimmer, I learned to live out feminist principles in everyday life. Working on the National Study of Youth and Religion helped me to develop confidence and independence.

submitted April 2018