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Ph.D. ‘91

Along with 16 other Ph.D. students, I entered the Carolina Sociology Grad Program in the fall of 1988.  It was a good time for the department, but also a time of transition.  Jack Kasarda, who had done much to build the department in the 1980s soon transitioned to the Keenan-Flagler Business School.  I was one of his last sociology students.  I recall that Gerhard Lenski had retired, but he came to our theory class to speak.  That was amazing.  So too did Peter Blau, who was still on the full-time faculty at that time.  Craig Calhoun left during my time there as I recall.  Several people were in the absolute prime of their careers, and there was much research and teaching dynamism.  I cherished my time there.  I learned a great deal from the professors with whom I had classes and worked: Jack Kasarda, Ken Bollen, Barbara Entwisle, Peter Uhlenberg, Kathy Harris (a new hire at the time), Francois Nielsen,  and several others.

As a Population Fellow, I spent a good deal of time at the Carolina Population Center.  It was in a very good spot at that time, at least from a graduate student point of view.  Lots of space, lots of professors, a great deal of research being done, incredible speakers coming in each week for the Friday brown bags, and excellent leadership.  We even put on a play during my time there, as I recall because the Pop Center was 20 years old.

Many of the classmates I began with did not finish their Ph.D., but for those who did, we had a tight group of people, with lots of support from more senior grad students, and new friends to make with each new incoming class.  A few of those folks have remained among my closest colleagues and friends.

My time at Carolina was also painful because during this era (1988-1991) Duke was better at basketball than Carolina.  All was not right with the world.  We have won a couple of national championships since then, and those were sweet times.

People will be less interested in my career since Carolina, but I will briefly mention it to illustrate the impact that a Carolina Ph.D. and my Carolina connections have had through the past 25 years.  I went to a teaching school in Minnesota at first, missing deeply the resources of Carolina, but moving there to have our children in our home state. During my time there, due to my connections to other Carolina grad students, I was introduced to Christian Smith, a fairly new professor on the Carolina faculty in the early 1990s.  We began a research project on a topic I had never before studied (religion) and I focused on race (one of my research specialties).  Those connections and that project led to my first book (co-written with Christian Smith) called Divided by Faith, a book that went on to win multiple national awards, sold a lot of copies (for a sociology book) and helped me get a position at Rice University, where I spent 15 years as a professor.  While there, research partnerships with past and present Carolina folks continued, and as a result many millions of dollars of research monies were received, 14 more books were published, and about 50 research articles.  My quantitative training at Carolina was stellar, and served me well continually over time.  When it was time to retool, I have returned to Carolina to learn the latest methods.

I am now Provost of North Park University in Chicago, trying to impart the spirit of cooperation and excellence that I learned while part of the Carolina Sociology program.
Submitted August 2015