Scrutinizing Solidarity

Kristen Powell

Standing outside of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, senior Kristen Powell had a thought: how is it possible that the apartheid regime came to exist? The University of Mary Washington anthropology major returned from an environmental sustainability trip to South Africa last January inspired to explore answers to her question – and her senior thesis provides her the platform to do just that. Apartheid, a word meaning “the state of being apart,” was a system of racial segregation in South Africa in the latter half of the 1900s. For Powell, the question revolved around why people would identify with   a regime such as apartheid or a sub-cultural group premised on racial supremacy and segregation.    With groups such as American Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan continuing to thrive in the 21st century, Powell argues that these questions must be explored to address the root forces behind racism in our society. “I started looking into all of the reasons people were drawn to these … [Read more...]

Munching the Numbers

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Debra Schleef’s students got a sweet assignment this fall. And, if you don’t think learning about univariate statistics sounds sweet, think again. Chocolate changes everything. “I’m pumped to get started on this,” said senior sociology major Lauren Boyle, who tore into a bag of M&M’s in a late-morning lab in Monroe 114. Each October Schleef, professor of sociology, turns her Quantitative Research Methods and Analysis course into the tastier “Candy Lab.” M&M’s add color to the curriculum and whet students’ appetites for concepts, like random probability sampling, that might otherwise seem tedious. Working in pairs, Boyle and her classmates ripped open bags of the button-shaped morsels and set aside 50 pieces. Schleef let them slurp up the extras – with one caveat. “Randomly eat them,” she said. “Don’t eat only one color, or you’ll ruin the results.” They counted the green, red, yellow, brown, orange, and blue M&M’s in their bags, while Schleef drew … [Read more...]

Mathematical Predictions

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What if there was a better way to track and predict the spread of worldwide epidemics like H1N1 flu and HIV before they happened? At the University of Mary Washington, Casey Howren ‘14 answered this question when she developed a computer program that uses mathematical formulas to predict the progress of global epidemics. Meeting on a daily basis with her mentor, Mathematics Professor Leo Lee, to help guide her research, the mathematics and sociology double major looked at the current ways that the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization track epidemics, and she realized that she could improve the process. Right now, those organizations track epidemics as they are happening. They follow how quickly epidemics spread in real time and then predict how they will continue in the future. Howren’s algorithm-based computer program takes this process a step further by predicting how an epidemic will spread from the first infected person before it ever happens. In … [Read more...]

A Bigger Impact

Laura Allan's journey to DC Teaching Fellows started with her volunteer work with organizations like Relay for Life and Stafford Junction

The night before graduation, Laura Allan got a life-changing phone call. Allan, a 2012 UMW graduate, had been accepted to the competitive DC Teaching Fellows program. Less than one month later, she arrived in Washington, D.C., to start an intensive eight-week training session. DC Teaching Fellows, a partnership between District of Columbia Public Schools and TNTP, a national nonprofit organization, trains professionals and recent college grads to serve high-need students throughout the D.C. area. The program is catered to people who have taken a nontraditional route to education, like Allan, who focused her undergraduate work on sociology. UMW, recognized on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past three years, is known for its service-minded students and alumni. The Peace Corps ranks UMW No. 1 in the nation among small universities for alumni now serving as Peace Corps volunteers. But many recent graduates, like Allan, choose to volunteer … [Read more...]

There’s No Place Like Home

Leslie Martin 2

Leslie Martin has honed in on housing and homelessness in the Fredericksburg area community. And so are students taking the freshman class seminar taught by the assistant professor of sociology. The students work at a local homeless shelter, assist with community dinners and tutor through programs around Fredericksburg. This integral community involvement helps shed light on area housing issues that undergraduates tackle in Martin’s seminar, “No Place Like Home: Housing and Society.” Martin leads discussions on housing and homelessness, using examples from her ongoing research on the rhetoric of homeless service providers. One such discussion in her urban sociology class focused on how the presence of homeless people in the downtown area impact local businesses. The timely issue illustrates how communities address inequality and poverty, Martin said. Martin, who has served on affordable housing and homelessness task forces, sees a connection between how agencies and … [Read more...]