Stonehill's Sociology and Criminology Programs Empower Graduates to Make the World a Better Place

November 4, 2015

Professor Christopher Wetzel, chair of Stonehill’s Department of Sociology & Criminology, says he sometimes meets students captivated by shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” who come to Stonehill looking for careers that promise that kind of grit and glamour.

He tells them life as a criminologist or sociologist isn’t what it appears on TV – it’s better.

“Students come to us as freshmen all excited because they love ‘CSI’ and they want to be forensic scientists,” says Wetzel. “We help students [recognize] that the reality of criminology isn’t what they see on TV, but it’s still fascinating, challenging and a great career choice.”

It's an assessment that is echoed by current students and graduates alike.

Understanding Social Forces in Society and in Personal Lives

James Lanier ’14

When Emma Lorusso ’16 arrived at Stonehill, she planned to major in education but a sociology class captured her imagination and her whole plan changed. “I decided to take Intro to Sociology with Professor (Jungyun) Gill in my sophomore year,” recalls Lorusso, “and I absolutely fell in love with it. It was the first class where I learned about different societal issues such as race, gender and age.”

That inclusive approach is at the heart of a Stonehill education. “I think the sociology program at Stonehill does a great job of encouraging students to develop a ‘sociological imagination,’ to see the connection between the personal and the social,” says Kelli Brodbeck ’14, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology at Northwestern University. “Sometimes this comes in the form of having a class discussion based on a theory or a compelling ethnography. Other times this occurs when students serve the local community as part of their coursework. However it happens, students have the opportunity to see the world in a different light, to understand another’s point of view and to recognize the possibility for social change.”

At its core, the Department of Sociology & Criminology focuses on providing students with a deep understanding of the social forces and dynamic changes affecting both contemporary society and personal lives. That resonated with James Lanier ’14, who was looking for a major that would sustain his interest. “The criminology program encouraged me to be creative and to create solutions to proposed problems involving crime and issues in the criminal justice system,” says Lanier, now employed as a police officer in Providence, Rhode Island, and pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at Boston University. “It also allowed me to consider other disciplines that affect criminology, such as sociology, psychology and biology.”

Majors that Tie into Stonehill’s Social Justice Mission

Currently, there are 157 criminology majors, 67 of whom are double majors, and 55 sociology majors, 38 of whom are double majors. (The Department also offers a minor in anthropology.) The most common double major for sociology is education. “Sociology majors tend to go into fields like social work, education and nonprofit management – things that live out the social justice mission of Stonehill,” says Wetzel. “If you major in sociology or criminology, you will have a lot of good career choices open to you.”

"The criminology program encouraged me to be creative and to create solutions to proposed problems involving crime and issues in the criminal justice system. It also allowed me to consider other disciplines that affect criminology, such as sociology, psychology and biology."
– James Lanier ’14, Providence (R.I.) police officer who is also pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at Boston University

Part of what attracts many students to these two programs is the intellectual challenge it presents. One of the required courses for sociology majors is Sociological Theories. “This was probably one of the most challenging classes I’ve taken at Stonehill,” says Lorusso, who is double majoring in psychology. “We learned and discussed four major theoretical frameworks and applied them to everyday life. It’s these challenging classes that get me thinking about new concepts and theories – and the passionate professors who prompt thoughtful discussions – that have helped me develop my critical thinking skills.”

With a wide range of both foundational and elective courses, students studying sociology and criminology master the basics, such as statistics, research methodology, human services and qualitative research, while also branching out with more nuanced courses, such as Sociology of the Prison; Victims in the Courtroom; Lovin’ it? A Sociology of McDonald’s and Everyday Life; and Sociology of Urban Space.

Cameron Burke ’17 is taking full advantage of the department by majoring in criminology and minoring in sociology (not an uncommon pairing). “Without a doubt, my favorite part has been learning about criminological theories,” says Burke. This year, he’s participating in Learning Inside Out, a new Stonehill program partnering with organizations in Serbia and Armenia to change the way students learn about peacebuilding, diplomacy and global crime, providing continuity between theory and practice.

“I'll be taking a class on global crime this fall,” Burke explains. “In the spring, I'll be going to Serbia to do an internship while also conducting my own research that I'll present at a conference in Armenia. I’m really excited about the program because not only does it satisfy my capstone requirement, but it will also give me good research experience and a publication by the time I’m through with it.”

Across the board, students and graduates in these fields credit the sociology and criminology faculty with providing both first-rate courses and invaluable one-on-one mentoring. Brodbeck, who was honored as a top sociology student when she graduated in 2014, was so inspired by her Stonehill education and faculty that she plans to pursue a career teaching sociology after she earns her Ph.D. “I would love to work at a place like Stonehill, where teaching and researching can be collaborative efforts between students and professors,” she says.