Department of Sociology

Real-World Learning

Field Work and Research

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.

  • The Work, Labor and Society course gives students a choice of several different service-learning projects working directly with local unions and worker organizations. Students have conducted research in local historical archives, created a training module on worker rights, and observed union bargaining sessions.
  • Students in Sociological Research I work in groups to design a survey research project to meet the needs of a local community organization. Partners have included a high school, a local arts organization, a drug prevention coalition, and a financial literacy training program. 
  • Students in Sociological Research II conduct observations and interviews about a wide range of topics. Research sites include social service organizations, schools, hospitals and health care centers.
  • Advanced students can do a practicum for credit, an opportunity to apply their classroom skills to work with a non-profit organization or agency on a specific project over the course of a semester.
  • The capstone course Learning from the Field provides students with an opportunity to directly observe and participate in the operation of a social service organization.

Real-World Projects

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.”