I arrived in Chapel Hill in the summer of 1993. Coming from Ohio, I was immediately struck by the density of the trees, beautiful rolling hills, and thickness of the heat. As I tell graduate students today, the first year of graduate school was one of the most exciting of my life. I had already been working full time for three years in city planning, and now had a chance to take classes, read sociology, work a little bit as a TA (my first TA experience for Francois Nielsen’s SOCI 101 was also my first sociology class, given my background in geography and city planning), and talk with really smart people. Among these were my incredibly supportive fellow graduate students at UNC, both in my cohort and in adjacent cohorts. I was going to start naming names… but I reached more than a dozen in my immediate network and knew I was leaving many out… so I’ll just say that you know who you are, and I continue to appreciate your support and friendship.
It is pretty cool to be able to say I took social theory with Peter Blau, Craig Calhoun, and Peter Bearman. I have a very vivid memory of Peter Blau approaching me as I worked in the Hamilton Hall computer lab one day, asking who I was, and then commending me for an exam answer I had written in his class. Despite not pursuing formal social theory, I enjoyed the issues so much that I ended up taking one of my prelims in social theory. No one had apparently explained to me (or more likely they did, but I failed to listen) that I should take prelims in areas in which I was likely to do research or publish.
During my 2nd semester in the program I had the good fortune to take Glen Elder’s life course class. There was something unique about the life course that really spoke to the interdisciplinary experiences and interests I have had throughout my career. Glen’s passionate and animated discussions of the life course perspective and its concepts (linked lives, life stage principle), and hearing about the making of Children of the Great Depression also drew me in. I was thrilled, then, when Glen left a note in my mailbox asking if I would be interested in working as an RA in his life course research lab.
I remember very well the first summer working over in the Carolina Population Center, getting involved in a project coding open-ended questions in the Iowa Youth and Families Project. Though my substantive interests were more in the area of neighborhood poverty, the Iowa project’s focus on how families adapted to historical change and economic adversity turned out to be a great fit. Getting involved in that project, as well as the chance to take one of Nan Lin’s courses over at Duke (I probably shouldn’t mention Duke), also exposed me to the social stress framework that underlies much of my work. I used this framework for my Thesis looking at the relationship between different types of stressors and depression among farm and non-farm families in Iowa.
In addition to the great mentoring I received from Glen (and throughout my career), working in the life course suite at CPC brought me into contact with a wide range of people, including advanced grad students (Richard Miech), postdocs (Mike Shanahan initially, and later Rob Crosnoe and Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson) and faculty from around the country that collaborated with Glen. One of my favorite memories was walking down Airport Road for lunch at The Flying Burrito (sadly now closed) with Mike and Richard. Mike would often regale us with stories of intrigue and high drama from the worlds of sociology, developmental science, and past conferences. It was somewhat of a disappointment then when I attended my first ASA and nothing of great controversy actually occurred.
One thing that I appreciate as a current Director of Graduate Studies is that I can’t remember who the DGS at UNC was at the time. Whoever it was did such an efficient job that I never had to contact them. I was given great freedom at Carolina to take whatever courses I wanted, to work with whomever I wanted, and make the most of my graduate education. Some of these experiences, that didn’t all fit neatly within a linear progression, included: taking a wonderful course in the writing of sociology with Sherryl Kleinman, getting involved in Chris Smith’s research on Evangelicals in the U.S., taking cultural
sociology with Judith Blau, social networks with Peter Bearman, and being a student editor for Social Forces. The freedom I had then feels like quite the luxury today.
I also appreciate the strong statistical and methodological training I received at UNC. Most memorable were courses with Guang Guo (regression) and Ken Bollen (limited dependent variables and structural equations), which I draw upon all the time. Although my cohort missed out on Barbara Entwisle’s research methods course, which rumor has it led some faculty to be concerned about our futures, it seems that most of us turned out all right (though I still wish I had been able to take it).
Howard Aldrich’s Teaching Sociology seminar was another important rite of passage for graduate students at UNC. Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, Howard was ahead of the curve in his advocacy for the active learning and student-centered pedagogical practices that are accepted as best practices in undergraduate education today. Howard’s passion for teaching (and 100+ page syllabus) was infectious and left a lasting impression on my approach to teaching. It is very meaningful that Howard and Penny recently endowed a Distinguished Professorship at Bowling Green State University, where I now work, that emphasizes undergraduate and graduate teaching and mentorship.
Another bit of good fortune, as I was about to start my dissertation, was the arrival of the first and second waves from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Over the years I have used this data to examine how growing up in poor neighborhoods influences a variety of outcomes, from lower college expectations, to depression and violence, to one’s own neighborhood attainments in the transition to adulthood. Subsequent research with Add Health has considered the role of exposure to violence and its consequences for adolescent survival expectations, the collateral consequences of parental incarceration, and the effects of educational mobility on crime and substance use. I very much appreciate the work that Kathie Harris, Dick Udry, Peter Bearman and many others at UNC have done over the years to make this sociologically rich study available to researchers across the country
A final and very fortunate circumstance of working at the CPC was meeting my wife Kara Joyner, who was a Postdoc with Dick Udry. Over the years we have been able to find compatible academic placements at a variety of stops, including faculty and postdoc positions at McGill University, the University of Montreal, Cornell University, as well as our current positions at BGSU. We have one son, Nicholas, who is currently finishing up high school and preparing to head off to college. We couldn’t talk him into applying to UNC, but perhaps for graduate school. We think back fondly on our time at Carolina, and look forward to seeing some of you the next time we are in Chapel Hill.
Thanks for the opportunity to share some memories from my time at UNC, and congratulations to the Sociology Department on its Centennial!
Submitted April 2019