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APSU sociology focuses on community development with new department name

Sociology student Vanessa Rodriguez-Paniagua

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Most people looking at jobs on Indeed or LinkedIn don’t come across listings for “sociologists.” Most employers, for that matter, don’t specifically seek out these individuals, which is a shame because of the knowledge and skillset sociologists bring with them. Do you need help with a marketing focus group, a diversity initiative, or a community needs assessment? Call a sociologist.

“We’ve found that a lot of people don’t know what sociology is,” Dr. Jonniann Butterfield, Austin Peay State University associate professor of sociology, said. “They think maybe it’s psychology, maybe it’s social work. Students take a class and then realize they’re really passionate about it, they really love it. It covers all the interesting topics – race, class, gender, poverty, war.”

When Butterfield became chair of Austin Peay’s then-named Department of Sociology, she realized they had a branding problem. That’s why the program officially changed its name last semester to the APSU Department of Sociology and Community Development.

“The new name helps students understand better what they can do with sociology,” Butterfield said. “Community development is really applied sociology, not the only applied sociology but one of the more popular ways that our students have applied it.”


It’s not uncommon for sociology graduates to be at the forefront of issues such as voting rights, homelessness and poverty, and they often find jobs in the public and non-profit sectors. The department has a long history of working with community organizations such as Loaves and Fishes, and Butterfield hopes the new name will allow them to expand and strengthen those partnerships.

“We really have been doing community development stuff for a long time, and so we felt like the new name would make sense and help attract students to the major,” she said. “We had our first non-profit day last spring, with almost 20 local organizations, and our students were able to come and find what skills they were looking for, what does a day in the life look like.”

The department’s students have interned with Habitat for Humanity, worked with the District Attorney’s Office and helped local non-profits conduct needs analyses. That work was sometimes hidden behind the degree title, but now graduates will list a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Community Development on their resumes. 

“We thought that would benefit our students to have that in the degree title so employers would know they have a skillset they want,” Butterfield said. “Social justice issues underlie it. Organizing and collective action really lend themselves well to coming up with solutions to community problems. And our students are really passionate about those issues.”

To learn more about the APSU Department of Sociology and Community Development, visit https://www.apsu.edu/sociology/.

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