Welcome to our November Featured Graduate Spotlight! This is an opportunity for us to introduce current majors to recent graduates and what they’re doing now – which means it’s also an opportunity for current majors to learn how to make the most out of their time here, and how to prepare for the next step of your life with your sociology degree in hand!
Today, we’re introducing you to Jeff Cornejo, who graduated in 2016. Department, meet Jeff, and Jeff, welcome back!
1. How did you decide to major in sociology?
I am the first person in my immediate family to go to college, and I didn’t quite know what I was doing at first. I knew I was interested in people, especially how people think and act, so at first, I thought I’d get into Psychology, but I ended up switching to Sociology my Junior year. Unfortunately, I was going through a lot of stuff at the time while facing a lot of student debt, and was forced to take some leave – just in time for the Big Recession to hit. I worked my way through and, nearly a decade later, I paid off my debt and decided to come back. Susanna Hansson was still my Academic Counselor, and she remembered me from so many years ago. She gave me the advice I wish I had received years ago. She told me “Don’t go at it alone this time.” That set me up for a great comeback.
2. What was your favorite Sociology class at UW?
I can’t pick just one – but these were my 3 favorites. The first is SOC 362: Racial and Ethnic Relations, taught by Savannah Larimore. This was when Rachel Dolezal first made headlines, and I thought the class was thought-provoking and telling of what would begin to play out on the national stage. Second is SOC 403: Applied Research with ManChui Leung. Asking a question like “what creates social change?” then operationalizing it to conduct field research was a rewarding experience. Third, I loved Edgar Kiser’s SOC 401: Theories of Action. We covered so much territory that quarter! My final essay for that course was on the source of homophily and racial stratification in American online dating websites. I think it was some of my best writing, but it also made for some awkward first date conversations. I now save that for the third or fourth date.
3. Did you have a favorite Sociology professor or TA?
I already mentioned Savannah, ManChui, and Professor Kiser. But I also want to mention Steven Pfaff for this one. He was my favorite lecturer because he was witty, he didn’t need his powerpoint, and his impersonation of Thomas Hobbes while saying “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” was awesome. Also, while I was getting my diploma during the Sociology Department graduation ceremony, I could hear him (discreetly) root for me from his seat, I felt very proud at that moment, second only to Susanna congratulating me before I walked on to that stage.
4. What is one thing you wish you had known at the beginning of the program that you want to tell new Sociology majors?
Don’t go at it alone! Take advantage of the resources available to you like the Writing Center. I think I’m a good writer, but after my first visit to the center, my writing was almost unrecognizable. Also, go to office hours at least once, for each course – you can’t go wrong with that.
5. How did participating in experiential learning help you make connections between what you learned in the classroom and life beyond the university?
SOC 403 was very meaningful to me, not only because I was part of designing and conducting research, but because it connected me to a neighborhood in Seattle I had avoided while growing up. I was able to see how our study was used as an engagement tool for members of that community. It also introduced me to new tools and data sources, like Social Explorer, which I would go on to use when I was writing grants at a non-profit. I went on to do a Sociology internship where we developed a community report card of health for that neighborhood. That introduced me to even more tools, like SimplyMap (now SimplyAnaltics) which introduced me to Consumer Expenditures and Nielsen ratings, which always piques people’s interest when I mention it during a job interview.
6. How did you find your first job after graduation? Any advice for our current Sociology majors as they prepare to enter the workforce?
As Sociologists, we know a lot about how social networks (personal and professional) and social capital influence people’s career progression. I’ve found that making connections and tapping into your network is essential for career development. I was employed at a non-profit while I was finishing my degree and unexpectedly lost my job a year after graduating. A relatively new acquaintance gave my name to another non-profit that was looking to hire someone on a 3-month contract. I also had many friends send job postings my way when they saw something interesting. I floated along for most of 2017 when an old friend of mine reached out and invited me to a happy hour organized by the Affinity Groups at her company. By the end of 2017, I was providing Administrative Support to a Product Manager of an internal startup at Amazon.
7. What is your current position?
I’m an Investigations Specialist now. My team supports the millions of vendors that sell their products on Amazon. It’s fascinating work, but I know there’s something even more fascinating waiting just around the corner.
8. How are the skills and ideas you learned as a Sociology major relevant to your job or your life now?
Whether I was part of a grass-roots campaign, a tech startup, or one of Forbes 100 best companies to work for, I think a lot of Max Weber’s bureaucratic theory to help me understand the nature of the organizations I’ve joined. I see a lot of charismatic leaders in startups and grass-roots organizing, and the perils that follow once they leave. I also worked at an organization governed by a tradition mentality while struggling to attract younger and diverse members. But I’ve also seen the efficiency of bureaucracy, especially when standardizing work or using concepts like Six-Sigma to reduce defects (in outcomes or products.)
9. What’s your favorite place to eat in the U-District?
I love taking people to Guanaco’s Tacos Pupuseria on Brooklyn Ave. The pupusas are fantastic, but the rest of their menu is excellent.
For our other Featured Graduate Post, follow the link to meet Maggie.