Sociology Student Says UMass Opportunities Are Powerful
“Scholarships like the LeBovidge Undergraduate Research Scholarship recognize the importance of giving undergraduates special opportunities,” says Stephanie DeFranzo ’10 (sociology). Her stipend (along with 4 others in various fields) was funded by Alan LeBovidge ’64 (economics) and his wife Carol. It supported 10 hours a week of substantive research assistance on a research project with Professor David Cort this past semester.
“The scholarship provides a particular quality of undergraduate experience that many research opportunities—so often marginalized for undergraduate assistants—cannot,” says DeFranzo. “I learned to navigate a research project’s development from the ground up. For the first time, I was able to consider all the pieces of a single study. Until this experience, I had only dealt with results or pieces of sociological research.”
Cort and DeFranzo studied how Mexican immigrants are faring in America, as compared with three popular sociological models of assimilation. “We measured job quality and job holding of first-, second- and third-generation Mexican immigrants against the job quality and holding of native-born blacks and whites,” DeFranzo explains. “Using large datasets of Lowell and Worcester populations, we conducted multivariate analysis looking at a number of characteristics to assess Mexican immigrant integration into the labor force. It was hard mind-work to connect our statistical analysis of the raw data with sociological theory. Working on all of these levels was invaluable experience for me. It is critical to any aspiring researcher—and unusual for an undergraduate to attain.”
DeFranzo chose sociology after taking a fantastic intro course at Greenfield Community College while in high school. “I couldn’t have been luckier with the UMass Sociology Department. I found young, fresh minds, extraordinary mentors, and established professors with valuable research expertise. The department has a broad range of special interests as well. I’ve worked with grad students, assistant professors, tenured professors, visiting professors and even an emeritus professor who is sponsoring my senior thesis. It’s powerful to be exposed to so many minds and perspectives.”
Coming from a high school class of 135, DeFranzo knew that she wanted a bigger place for college. Both of DeFranzo’s parents attended UMass (James DeFranzo ’80 and Lisa Shepardson ’81), and having been raised in nearby Southampton before moving to Amherst, she was well acquainted with campus. Still, UMass wasn’t her first choice, perhaps because it was so familiar. “I am grateful, however, that it was my final decision.” DeFranzo notes. “I’ve had so many opportunities that I don’t think a private institution could have offered. Professors here, while maintaining the UMass reputation for research, are very student oriented.”
Experiencing student life as one of 20,000 undergrads, DeFranzo acknowledges, “is very different from understanding the size of UMass in theory. You have to speak up—or come to terms with anonymity—and no matter what your preference, you have to keep track of yourself. This kind of knowledge is an essential supplement to what you learn in the classroom.”
DeFranzo chose the speaking up route. “I talked to anyone and everyone to learn more about my interests,” she says. “I’ve met nothing but encouragement and help from those with whom I’ve shared my goals, and I’ve been rewarded with great fortunes of experience."
For example, DeFranzo worked with a grad student in the sociology department last spring, contributing to his literary research in preparation for his dissertation. “We were studying the culture of the locavore movement, a contemporary environmental (and social and political) effort to encourage consumers to buy locally grown produce. While no one in the department specifically studies this new thread of social inquiry, we approached botanist John Gerber in Plant and Soil Sciences. Long interested in sustainable farming and the ‘eat local’ movement, he not only commented on our social interpretation, but directed us along the more ecological veins. Such interdisciplinary interests, I think, build a stronger academy.”
Quick to recognize that a university experience is more than pure academics, DeFranzo sang with the University Chamber Choir for two years. “I’ve played on an intramural volleyball team each spring, and this year I’m organizing a team,” she says. “I love the Minuteman Marching Band, and have attended uncountable music department concerts. I’ve heard some extraordinary speakers, especially in sociological forums, and am particularly excited about Frank Warren coming to talk about his social experiment, PostSecret. His stuff is so cool, and really reaches a diverse population.” DeFranzo also spent a month in Senegal doing community service and is a peer advisor for the Sociology Department. “That’s been one of my favorite jobs,” she says.
Grad school is definitely in DeFranzo’s future, but not right away. “I’ll graduate nine days before turning 21,” she says, “so before I embark on my next stage of academic growth, I’d like to contribute something tangible with real consequence—like working! Learning about education inopportunity and inequality in America has sparked a fire in me—especially since I view education as one’s most valuable asset and means of access. So, next year I’m looking to get involved in a nonprofit dedicated to the correction of economic and racial inequalities.”
February 8, 2010