Majoring in Sociology was, for me, another unexpected path and one that has shaped me personally and professionally in countless ways.
My FIU Story
I transferred to FIU from a *neighboring* institution with more than two years of coursework, an excess of (somewhat) random credits and a deficiency in understanding what major I should be pursuing. I have no idea (still) how a former undergraduate fitting this profile would go on to become a university administrator.
Prior to transferring to FIU, I was fairly unsure of what I wanted my career path to be having “tested” several majors at my first institution. Note that I left high school with the intent of studying (i.e. playing with) dolphins. Yes, as in the marine mammal. My original major was a double one: Marine Science and Biology. That didn’t stick (I was absolutely horrible at the science despite rocking it out in high school). Nothing really stuck. Luckily, on a whim, I finally made the decision to go into Sociology at FIU based on an elective course I had taken at my previous school. I loved people watching and felt that I understood them more than most. Life on the periphery gives you different eyes.
Sociology was the path I didn’t know I was meant to take.
My FIU story includes a deep reverence for what was the Sociology department. The department name is now GSS, Global & Sociocultural Studies. As an undergraduate, I took the most interesting courses I had taken in my (up until then) whole college experience. The faculty and staff were quirky and the students, a handful of whom I completely loved and became close friends with (and some who continue to be friends to this day), followed their example. Maybe we just knew that our motley crew accepted each other with all of our eccentricities. Collectively, I felt we appreciated each other as much as the “study of what people do”.
As a graduate student, I had an even better experience between being a student, graduate assistant and teaching assistant. I don’t know that there was any other department that could boast such colorful characters. Professor Maingot was from Trinidad and his world view(s) were informed by experiences so entirely different than my own that I could listen to him pontificate about race and ethnicity for hours. And there was also Dr. Mahler, a relatively young professor who taught our methods courses; she was hard and made no apologies about it, but I enjoyed her brain and still consider her classes among the best I took while in the Comparative Sociology program. [Sidebar: I also adopted a cat she had found at one point. The cat turned out to be Beelzebub, and I ultimately had to give him away after he attacked my face in the middle of the night.] Dr. Osborne was a proud Canadian who taught every class sans notes or textbook; he was a genius sociologist who seemed to have a clear dislike for other people. At least, people in the general sense. In reality, he loved his special people and students, and he and his partner would often invite us all over for dinners and Canadian Thanksgiving. His “favorites” group became a sort of tribe for me.
I worked as a graduate assistant for a year and was then offered a teaching assistant position. The department saw it fit to give me my own Introduction to Sociology class – I was both elated and terrified. 75 students. Some of the craziest moments of my teaching career happened in that classroom (the class consisted of the usual classroom characters as well as a throng of hilarious fraternity men who would continue to define my teaching experience at FIU as their friends took successive classes that I taught). There are former students who I now consider friends, almost 15 years later – yes, some of the same fraternity group included – who I continue to have a connection with, particularly through social media. At the time, I was almost the same age as my students. I got to share Marxian theoretical perspectives and teach with a bandana on my head. What more could a Sociology nerd ask for?
When we weren’t in class (or grading papers or teaching), we (the graduate students) were congregating in the department lounge eating, attempting to use the antiquated computers for lengthy papers and waxing philosophical about the state of the world around us. I seem to remember us having several parties in that lounge. Sigh. The graduate student life.
As far as I was concerned, the whole place was just a tad bit wacky, and I loved it. My colleagues came from all different professional and personal experiences. University administration, K-12 teachers, real estate agents; sociologists can have a lot of resumes. We were all from different walks as well (fitting, I think, for a Sociology program). My Jamaican friend Dean and I were attached at the hip (especially in class) and often cackled together over completely inappropriate things. He was model good-looking. Our friend Tony was Cuban, Muslim, a fan of spoken word poetry and one of the most unique people I had ever met. My friend Vin (a French and Italian guy living in the Keys who made me laugh so hard I could barely breathe) and I may have been siblings in another lifetime; in fact, he continues to be one of my best friends and is every bit the brother I never had. Thank you, Sociology.
There’s nothing more satisfying than finding your tribe. Truly, there’s not much that feels as good as feeling accepted or a part of something. And, for all of the experiences, stories, and community I immediately found, I will remain forever thankful.
Thank you, FIU.
Sociology & Anthropology, BA ‘98
Comparative Sociology, MA ‘02