Don WillisDon Willis

MA in Sociology | 2013 | Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock


Why did you choose to purse an MA in Sociology at the UofA?

I was a sociology major as an undergraduate and knew that I was interested in this field. After completing my BA in sociology at UCA, I took a year off to volunteer with Heifer Int./AmeriCorps and do a little research on graduate school programs. The University of Arkansas Sociology Department stood out to me as a program where I would have a lot of opportunities to get engaged with applied sociological research that impacted the surrounding community. That applied element paired with an amazing faculty with a variety of teaching and research interests made the decision to choose the sociology graduate program at U of A an easy one.


What did you do upon graduating from the MA in Sociology program?

After completing the MA program, I began working towards my PhD in sociology at the University of Missouri - Columbia. I recently completed that degree and have taken an assistant professor position at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.


What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

If I had to point to one single accomplishment that I am most proud of, it would be the students who I have helped inspire to go on to graduate school. I have instructed, mentored, and supported through letters of recommendation several students who have been accepted into prestigious graduate programs, including Washington University in St. Louis. While research is extremely important to me, there have been few experiences as rewarding as watching students develop their sociological imaginations and then seeing their excitement when they've been accepted into a great graduate program.


How did your education in the MA Sociology Program prepare you for what you are doing today?

The MA in Sociology provided me a set of theoretical and empirical tools that helped me develop interesting sociological questions and subsequently design research to answer those questions. Furthermore, coursework helped me develop a sense of pedagogical styles that I felt worked well for offering these same tools to future students of my own. All of these are skills that I continue to use today as an assistant profess of sociology.


What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Get involved in research as soon as possible. If you didn't come in with a research question of your own, this will help you develop one. Spend as much time with your professors as you can. They aren't just knowledgeable about their areas of research, they hold important cultural and institutional knowledge that you can't find in a handbook or by Googling. Ask the questions you feel embarrassed to ask. If a professor asks if you'd like to get involved with their research or another project, do it even if you feel like you are not totally sure what you are doing--you'll mess up, but you'll learn. Cherish any time you have to just sit and read. Finally, try to get a clear idea of what you want from the program and do your best to work with mentors/advisors to make the program suit your goals. Those goals aren't the same for everyone, so its crucial for you to communicate your goals to the faculty you will be working with.