In 2015, Jonathan "John" Joseph graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a concentration in social sciences. He also received to minors, Sociology and Leadership Studies. Like many students, Jon decided to find opportunities that would help him better understand his passions and focus on the kinds of professions he might find engaging before entering graduate school. As he stated,
Between May of 2015 and starting graduate school in August of 2018, I completed a year of AmeriCorps service totaling over 1,700 hours of service in a low-income community, serving high school students in an under-served Title I high school. In short, I provided school-based social work services in addition to tutoring and classroom support to raise attendance, behavior, and coursework outcomes for students. Many of my freshmen students during the 2015 - 2016 have graduated and are now in college! Then in my last two years of taking time off between undergrad and grad I wanted to branch out into more community engagement roles. Summer 2016 & 2017 I worked at Civic Education Project in Baltimore, Maryland which is a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and Northwestern University focused on bringing over 100 youth across the country and the world during a three-week summer intensive program focused on civic leadership, service learning, and social justice education. It was incredibly rewarding experience working with incredibly passionate and bright young people committed to making a more just society as well as working with phenomenal staff members in K-12, higher education, non-profit, and other change-making spaces. Lastly, I completed two paid internships at Haven House Services and United Way of the Greater Triangle serving disadvantaged youth in Raleigh & Durham. I got the rewarding opportunity to get plugged into Raise the Age Initiative during the 2017 legislative year in the NC General Assembly, increasing the juvenile jurisdiction age from 16 to 18 for youth in North Carolina for non-violent offenses.
After these enriching experiences, John decided that the graduate education that best suited his passion would be in earning a Master’s of Education focusing on community development and action at Vanderbilt University. John stated,
My graduate program focuses on a large scale, systematic social change by focusing on theory, research, practice, and policy to foster positive human well-being through the foundations of community psychology and applied sociology. I choose this program because it truly checked all the boxes that I was looking for in a graduate program: a strong commitment to social justice and equity, outstanding and distinguished faculty, plus project-based and experiential learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Now in his second year of the program, John has been able to reflect on how sociology has helped him in his pursuit of graduate education and working with various communities.
My sociological education has been pivotal to my success both inside and outside the classroom. My graduate studies focus on community development and public policy specifically the intersects of racial, economic, and social disparities that hinder youth (birth to 25 years of age) from positive life outcomes. I was very much prepared for my graduate-level research course as well as my theory course my first semester of graduate school at Vanderbilt. In terms of outside the classroom, I believe my sociological education provided the ability to think across disciplines and understand the context of where we are and how we got to the level of inequality we are at now. In addition, understanding structural and systematic racism not only in education but also in the criminal legal system, housing, voting, urban development, etc.
He has also had time to consider what he would suggest to students considering graduate school and career opportunities.
My advice to current students is two-fold: (1) take time off of school if you are planning on pursuing graduate-level education no matter the program having real-world experience is so critical to the discussion and application-based learning you will experience after Appalachian. I found it crucial to my success of having a breather from four years of intense studying, paper writing, campus involvement, etc. (2) Pinpoint organizations that are doing the work in the area of interest(s) you have. There are so many amazing organizations doing critical advocacy work in Raleigh advancing solutions on important issues in the North Carolina legislature. Having the opportunity to work on policy reports and lobbying on bills has been a huge positive reinforcement in me pursuing my career goals of being a Director of Policy and Partnerships one day.
Overall, John has accomplished so much since 2015 and has a bright future ahead. However, he certainly sees how Appalachian State and his studies in sociology has assisted him in growing as an intellectual and a responsible citizen.