BOONE, N.C. — After graduating from Appalachian State University, sociology major Emily Hatem ’19 joined AmeriCorps, a federal agency that brings people together to tackle social challenges through national service and volunteering. She says the practical experience she has gained in working with families and children will serve her well when she enters graduate school this fall.
Hatem’s first assignment was in Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, working in math intervention with seventh and eighth graders. Now as a senior member with AmeriCorps, she works in case management with a small nonprofit in Baltimore that supports high school students who are academically ranked in the lowest 25 percentile.
“What I learned with my sociology degree really set me up to work with people and in different social systems — to understand how people are affected differently because of their backgrounds or social status. There are social barriers within every part of society, and I’m really interested in how that affects young people and how to combat injustices they my face,” she said.
Lessons learned through COVID-19
The safety precautions necessary for COVID-19 changed how she and her colleagues engaged with the students they serve through AmeriCorps, but she said the pandemic has taught her and her students skills they otherwise might not have experienced: flexibility and adaptability.
“Before COVID, my role was to facilitate after-school programming for my students. The programming was meant to provide a space to work on schoolwork, complete required community service hours and build relationships among volunteers, students and school staff,” she said.
With her students engaged in remote learning, her after-school programming took to Zoom. She conducted one-on-one academic support through the technology’s breakout rooms feature, and she and her colleagues became creative in how to offer students volunteer hours from the safety of their homes.
“Students have written letters to nursing homes and hospitals, and we have still been able to strengthen relationships among students and volunteers by hosting and facilitating virtual events where folks can come together to play games, check in and get to know each other better,” Hatem said.
“I don’t think anybody could have been prepared for something like this, but I also think pushing through uncertainty makes people stronger,” she added.
Passionate faculty, eye-opening internships
Hatem, originally from Wilmington, earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in families and intimate relationships. She also minored in religious studies and nonprofit management. She has been accepted by multiple graduate schools for a dual social work and law program and has plans to eventually work in family law or welfare law.
Among her App State experiences, Hatem completed internships at two local nonprofits: Western Youth Network and F.A.R.M. Cafe — both of which gave her a broader understanding of social issues, she said. She encourages current students to take initiative and volunteer with local nonprofits to learn more about the High Country community.
“I would push people to multiple internships if they can, especially if you’re unsure what you want to do,” Hatem said. “Sociology is a broad field — you need to dip your toes in it before you graduate.”
She learned about AmeriCorps through her mentor in the Department of Sociology, Dr. Cameron Lippard, and service between college and graduate school appealed to her, she said.
“All the sociology professors are passionate about what they teach, and they work to set up students for success,” she said.
Lippard said Hatem showed a real excitement to learn and apply the skills she gained as a sociology major but struggled on which career path she wanted to pursue because she was not ready to go to graduate school just yet.
“We spent several hours thinking and talking about her skills and her past volunteering experiences working with children to consider where to go next,” Lippard said.
He added, “I am very proud of Emily’s accomplishments because she was able to take what she learned at App State, test it out and experience the real world, which has led her to more higher education to be a real agent of change.”
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About the Department of Sociology
The Department of Sociology offers a Bachelor of Arts and seven Bachelor of Science concentrations (applied research methods; criminology; families and intimate relationships; health and aging; power and social change; social inequalities; and individually designed, which requires departmental approval). The department also offers minors in sociology and health and aging, plus two online graduate certificates: aging, health and society, and sociology. Learn more at https://soc.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Appalachian State University is home to 17 academic departments, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. CAS aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. More than 6,400 student majors are enrolled in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing App State’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.