Friday, December 9, 2011

Sociology grads blaze unconventional paths

 For Bloomsburg University sociology alumnae Liz Garrigan-Byerly ’01 and Linda Waldron ’94, the path to careers they love required them to apply their skills in unconventional ways.

Garrigan-Byerly says she always found human nature fascinating and wanted to use that interest in service to others. Drawn to the sociology department’s social work program, she was one of the top graduates in what was known as the College of Arts and Sciences. After graduation, she worked at Gould Farm, a therapeutic community for adults with mental illness, where she says her background in sociology and psychology helped her greatly.

After five years, she realized her true calling was in the Christian ministry and went on to earn her Master of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School in 2009. Garrigan-Byerly was ordained in the United Church of Christ the same year and served as pastoral resident in Wellesley Congregational Church in Massachusetts for two years. She returned to Pennsylvania in October 2011 as pastor at Friedens United Church of Christ in Oley, near her hometown in Lancaster County.

“As a pastor, I counsel people, both formally and informally, so my social work classes are a great help,” Garrigan says. “Furthermore, churches are cultures and systems all of their own. Understanding how systems work, how groups respond to crisis, stress, change and so on and been really useful as I lead a congregation.”

Waldron, a first-generation college student, says she was unsure what she wanted to study when she got to Bloomsburg and changed her major multiple times before taking a sociology class by chance and finding it suited her.

“I remember being so intrigued by a discipline that allowed you to not only see the world in a different way, but allowed you to reflect on your own life and see that in a new way too,” she says. She took a Social Stratification class where she wrote a paper analyzing her own family’s social class. It was the eye-opening moment when she decided to major in sociology.

She took a job as a counselor at a residential schooling facility when she graduated, working with young girls ordered into the program by the courts. Many had suffered from child abuse and neglect and had severe learning disabilities. When Waldron realized there was little she could do to improve the program, she returned to school. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology as well as a second master’s in television, radio and film from Syracuse University, which allowed her to supplement her teaching assistant’s stipend with freelance work. After working with NPR, CNN and CBS, she decided to try her hand as a news producer at a CBS and FOX affiliate in Atlanta.

Waldron found she missed sociology’s complexity and returned to her academic background in 2004, becoming a tenured associate professor of sociology at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. She has since served as department chairperson and published numerous articles focusing on adolescent and school violence and aggression.

“Every chance you take provides you with a new opportunity, so be open to change,” she recommends. “Look for unique opportunities that make you an interesting candidate when you go on the job market. BU can provide you with all these experiences, but it is up to you to take advantage of them.”

— Jenn D’Amico, '2012

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