A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Standout Sociology Program Earns Approval for Grad Degrees

October 6, 2015

Current and prospective graduate students have new degree options at UC Merced, which recently received approval from the UC system and the WASC Senior College and University Commission for both master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology.

Sociology students at UC Merced previously could only obtain Ph.D.s in social sciences. Having formal Ph.D.s in sociology will better equip those students to find research jobs and open doors of opportunity as professors at colleges and universities said sociology Professor and Chair Nella Van Dyke.

“The sociology faculty are thrilled that the UC system and WSCUC have approved our M.A. and Ph.D. programs,” Van Dyke said. “Their approval confirms that we have created a high-quality graduate program, on par with those offered at other University of California campuses.”

The panel of scholars charged with assessing UC Merced’s sociology program praised its quality and academic rigor during the review. The sociology faculty at UC Merced rivals those at top-ranked universities across the state and nation, one reviewer said.

Program Includes Award-Winning Faculty

A vast majority of UC Merced’s sociology professors have won major national awards from the American Sociological Association and have published in top sociology journals, including the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, and Social Problems. Many have published award-winning books through leading university presses.

Vice Provost and Graduate Dean Marjorie Zatz — also a sociology professor — said news of the approval is likely to boost demand for UC Merced’s sociology programs, which boast a number of productive and successful faculty members. Zatz said she was attracted to UC Merced herself by the program's strength.

“While relatively small, the sociology program here is truly excellent, and comfortably on equal footing with the other programs in the UC,” Zatz said. “Now that we have a fully approved Ph.D., I expect to see the sociology program’s ratings soar. The number of applicants to the Ph.D. program doubled last year, and the quality of applicants is very high.”

Among the recent accomplishments by sociology faculty members:

  • Professor Paul Almeida was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study non-governmental organizations and their roles in community well-being in Honduras. He also was selected by the Pacific Sociological Association as the 2015 recipient of its Distinguished Scholarship Award for his book “Mobilizing Democracy: Globalization and Citizen Protest.”
  • Professor Laura Hamilton's co-authored book “Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality” received the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Scholarly Book Award recognizing it as the best book published in all of sociology for the previous two years.
  • Professor and graduate group Chair Zulema Valdez — working with UC Merced colleagues Jan Wallander, Susana Ramirez, Robin DeLugan and Steve Roussos — was awarded a three-year, Community-Based Participatory Research grant from the National Institutes of Health for a study on obesity disparities for Latinos in the Central Valley.

Student-Focused Program

In addition to its distinguished faculty, Van Dyke said, what really sets the UC Merced sociology program apart is the way it supports and educates its students. Faculty members provide intensive mentoring to graduate students, and seminars and writing courses are provided to help students prepare for independent research and journal articles.

Students have opportunities to work with faculty members on important research topics that are relevant to the Central Valley, the state and the nation, such as race, health care and education. And they leave the program equally prepared for careers in academia or elsewhere.

“Most graduate programs focus exclusively on training students to become professors, in spite of the fact that there are many research jobs available to well-trained sociology Ph.D.s,” Van Dyke said. “Our program trains students for academic careers as well as applied research careers in nonprofits, higher education, and public and private agencies outside of academia.”