If you like to people-watch and understand individuals’ stories and roles in society, you could foster those interests into a career as a sociologist. 

I went to college thinking I’d become a high school math teacher, but an introductory sociology course instantly hooked me, and I decided to switch paths. The moment I stepped into a classroom as a teaching assistant changed my life for the better and I’ve never looked back. 

It is such a rewarding experience to be able to teach future sociologists. Let me tell you about WSU’s Sociology program. 

  • Our bachelor’s degree prepares students for both employment and graduate school. 
  • Based on our alumni survey taken in 2021, 94% of our grads are currently employed. And when asked about the strengths of our program, the top response was the faculty. 
  • Our tight-knit program allows us to really get to know students and see them through graduation and beyond. 
  • Inside the classroom, you’ll consider seemingly simple topics like family and poverty in different ways by exploring examples from real life—including your own. 
  • You’ll also get plenty of hands-on opportunities outside the classroom through a community engagement research project, travel study trips around the country, and internships around the world. 

Aurea Osgood, Ph.D.

I’ve been a professor at Winona State for 13 years, and I still enjoy the few minutes right before and after class because that’s when I really get to know students and help them make connections between the material and their lives.

Why I’m Passionate about This Field

I knew I was a sociologist before I knew what Sociology was. It’s just the way I think.  

Sociologists set aside their own assumptions rather than looking at the world in black and white.  

With poverty, for example, it’s easy for someone to claim that poor people are lazy and just need to work harder to not be poor. But sociologists consider the job market, illness, disability, and discrimination, among other larger social factors. They see the big picture. 

I believe that if you can offer something to someone else, whether that be time or money or talent, then you should. 

Many of my family members volunteered when I was young—and still do today—so giving back to the community was never out of the ordinary for me. Poverty has been a constant issue that I’ve cared about, so I volunteer a lot through Winona Volunteer Services 

It’s especially important for sociologists to engage with the community and volunteer because doing so offers perspective. You’re ultimately able to be around people you may not otherwise interact with and hear their stories.  

That’s how our students learn to become a source of both understanding and change in society. And that’s exactly why I love not only this field, but also teaching students. 

Let me tell you more about our Sociology program. 

What You’ll Do

Sociology is one of only a handful of programs at WSU that offers a community engagement course.  

Our students take an upper-level research class that involves a full semester research project. In this course, we have a real-life client from the community visit us and present an issue they need to address. The client describes their goals, resources, logistics, and more, and the students decide how to best solve the problem. 

They work as a team to create and administer a survey or evaluation, analyze their results, and formally present recommendations to the client. 

For example, because I serve on the Board of Directors for Bluff Country Co-op, that was our client for a semester. I knew the store was going to expand, so I thought it was a great chance for research students to create a shopper experience survey and let customers inform decisions.  

From single-sex bathrooms to the general orientation of the expansion, many decisions were made because of the students’ results. 

It is so cool to watch them develop a full project, and I love when students recognize the value of their work and that their results make an impact on our community. 

Dr. Osgood has always been such a supportive professor. When I had a class scheduling problem, she offered to set up an arranged course with me and even let me borrow some of her own books. She truly wants me to succeed. 

I also feel lucky to have taken a research course with Dr. Osgood because she made the class feel both comfortable and competent in what we were researching. Creating a survey, analyzing data, and presenting our research to a client were important learning experiences for me.

Katina Gehn

Fourth-Year Sociology Student, Winona State University

Experiences You’ll Get

On top of the extensive community research project, students complete 360 internship hours in an organization related to sociology during their final year in our program.  

Most students intern at local social service agencies, county government offices, home healthcare facilities, and even WSU’s own Admissions Office. But I know students who have interned around the world, from Disney World in Florida to Italy’s Joel Nafuma Refugee Center to an orphanage in the Philippines. 

One example of a past internship that students have done is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Sociology students planned programming for matches, helped create new matches, and even participated in activities with matches themselves.

Aside from other required clinicals in WSU’s health sciences, Sociology is one of the only programs to require such a large internship. And we do this because we value our students getting hands-on experience before they graduate. 

I know a student, Anna Schoen, who plans to complete an internship this summer that combines her interests in Sociology and Theatre. 

Student Shoutout: Anna Schoen

As a Sociology student, I love that I now have a broader perspective of the world, a greater empathy for others, and a better understanding of the social systems in our society, from healthcare to religion to race. 

The Sociology program has taught me how to look at larger concepts like family and cities in a detailed manner. I also know how to successfully work with people from backgrounds different than my own, which is a huge skill. 

Dr. Osgood has been a wonderful advisor. She listened to my interests and goals then helped me create an individual plan that allowed me to grow in the areas I was actually passionate about. 

Whenever I had questions about my degree, she was always ready and willing to help. Thanks to Dr. Osgood’s guidance, I’m hoping to intern at the Chatfield Center of the Arts. And I couldn’t be more excited!

Anna Schoen

Fourth-Year Sociology Student, Winona State University

Where We Can Take You

To get students excited about social research, I went on a faculty-led trip to Chicago and Washington, D.C., with another Sociology professor. 

Students learned the best practices in social research from speakers at top-dog organizations like the Center for Urban Research and Learning and the American Sociological Association. The students got comfortable with transportation systems like the Red Line and tried new foods in areas that were predominantly non-white like Chinatown.  

We also introduced topics we didn’t have designated classes for.  

Students explored the sociology of food by saving their leftovers whenever we ate out and finding someone in the community who could use it. They explored the sociology of sport by comparing the dramatically different surroundings of the Chicago Cubs’ and White Sox’s baseball stadiums and considering what those differences meant holistically. 

Our students got to see the concepts they learned about in 3-D, essentially. I can talk about something and tell stories and even show videos about it in class, but it’s not the same as seeing it first-hand—and that’s what our students got to experience during that trip. 

The Professor Pop-Up blog series explores WSU’s academic programs through the eyes of talented professors, ambitious current students, and thriving alumni. Read more stories from the Professor Pop-Up series.