SOAN department hosts annual alumni panel

Alumni Elena Soyer ’17 and Aaron Lane-Davies ’90 chat following the Hochhauer Alumni Panel on Feb. 17, 2020 in Babcock Formal Lounge (Photo by Ellie Khan ’20).

Olivia Proe

Features Editor

Two Wooster graduates returned to campus on Monday, Feb. 17 for the tenth annual Hochhauser Alumni Panel. Students and faculty gathered in Babcock Formal Lounge to hear from guests Dr. Aaron Lane-Davies ’90 and Elena Soyer ’17, former members of the anthropology and sociology departments, respectively. Both Lane-Davies and Soyer discussed their work in health professions as well as the impact that Independent Study (I.S.) had on their college experiences and life beyond Wooster.

The Hochhauser Alumni Panel is funded by a gift from Lisa Hochhauser ’89, who was one of the first graduating seniors to utilize ethnographic methods in her I.S. Often associated with sociology and anthropology, “ethnographic methods” refers to the systematic collection of data through participant observation, interviews and conversation. While Ethnographic Methods is currently offered as a course to Wooster students, this is a relatively recent development; when Hochhauser was completing her I.S. in 1989, she was individually taught the research methods by Professor of Anthropology Pamela Frese, who served as her advisor for the project.

According to Frese, “When deciding how she wanted to give back to Wooster, [Hochhauser] thought about how important the ethnographic context was for her and wanted to support the sociology and anthropology department in bringing back alumni to speak who incorporated ethnographic methods into their Independent Studies.” Thus, both Lane-Davies and Soyer were chosen to speak on the panel based on their exceptional utilization of ethnographic methods in their projects.

Lane-Davies, current chief of quality for the Bronson Medical Group, was also one of the first anthropology students at the College. After doing housing justice work in West Virginia, he was inspired to document cultural change in post-Industrial Revolution Appalachia for his I.S. Echoing Hochhauser’s experience just a year prior, the existing sociology department did not offer the sort of ethnographic research that Lane-Davies hoped to complete. Thus, Lane-Davies and a cohort of 15 other students decided to build a new anthropology department under the guidance of Frese. The group used their convergence of interests to blaze new trails and establish the department that remains at the College today.

Soyer, now a health associate at Mathematica, completed her sociology I.S. on the healthcare access of the Spanish-speaking populations in both Wooster, Ohio and Portland, Ore. She had the idea to connect with a local clinic for research after taking the class Globalizing Healthcare in her junior year. Once partnered with the clinic, Soyer focused on interviewing healthcare providers about their perceptions of healthcare access. Her I.S. was also unique as she co-facilitated interviews with another student. The two complemented each other’s work; Soyer’s friend’s interviews with local community members provided another angle to perceptions of healthcare access.

“Returning to campus for the Hochhauser Panel was an exciting experience. I loved having the opportunity to talk about my I.S. with current Wooster students, as well the chance to reflect upon how my I.S. has impacted my work experiences since graduation,” said Soyer. “Writing I.S. was a highlight of my Wooster experience. It was great to hear about some of the I.S. ideas of current students and to have them ask me questions about my experience as they prepare to begin the process themselves. I also loved the chance to reconnect with my Wooster professors,” she said.

Both Lane-Davies and Soyer expressed that their work on I.S. informed their career choices after graduating from Wooster. Lane-Davies went on to medical school and found that he still uses skills from I.S. in his clinical career. He explained that skills from conducting ethnographic research have been beneficial in clinical practice, such as speaking to families, understanding cultural differences and finding points of shared understanding. Soyer also felt that her skillset from I.S. transferred to her work at a non-profit now; her research in medical sociology has given her a strong background to focus on health policy at Mathematica. “My Wooster experience inspired me to find work that is intellectually stimulating and gets me excited. Being a student at Wooster, especially working on I.S., requires you to care so much about what you’re working on. My I.S. helped to hone my interest in the healthcare field and was a large part of the reason that I decided to pursue work in this space,” she said.

The panelists also encouraged attendees to take some time after graduating to explore career options. Lane-Davies continued his housing justice work for two years after his time at the College, and Soyer spent the summer after graduation working on a farm. She later went on to a job in institutional review board training before settling into her current work at Mathematica. “It’s hard to know what kind of work you want to pursue after college,” Soyer said. “Keep an open mind about what types of work you could be interested in and remember that the skills you learn at Wooster can be transferred to many different workplace responsibilities.” Both felt that having other experiences after leaving Wooster allowed them to discover new interests that later would provide career opportunities.

To conclude the panel, Lane- Davies and Soyer expressed that there were a number of new career opportunities in medicine that sociology and anthropology students may find exciting. According to Soyer, “There are many, many jobs that you could wind up applying to that you’ve never even heard of while still in school, and there is no harm in not knowing exactly what you want.” Lane-Davies spoke about possibilities around innovation in medicine such as new care delivery models, payment models, technology and community-focused treatment.

In discussing the Hochhauser Alumni Panel, Professor of Sociology Tom Tierney reflected, “We hope that students learn the value of the research skills they develop as sociology and anthropology majors, and that there are many opportunities to use those skills after they graduate from Wooster … Very few people follow a straight path in their professional lives, but the College prepares students to take advantage of even unanticipated opportunities that are presented to them.”

Frese echoed Tierney in his sentiments surrounding life after Wooster. According to Frese, using ethnographic research methods — like Hochhauser, Lane-Davies and Soyer did — is beneficial “because the world is turning so number-oriented, we’re missing the ‘people part’ of looking at the world through other people’s eyes [and] using their words. I’d like folks to know that it isn’t just an Independent Study, but you carry these skills into a job … Ethnographic research skills learned in College make you so much more successful in various positions.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *