Assistant Professor of Sociology Kirstie Kemmerer is living proof that it’s OK to change directions in life. While earning her bachelor’s in business management, she thought she wanted to be a wedding planner. Now, several years later, she has a Ph.D. and teaches classes that deal with hard-hitting issues such as domestic violence and rural crime.
“What got me hooked on sociology was a class I took on drugs and alcohol to fill a gen. ed. requirement,” Kemmerer said. “But I became really interested, and it ultimately made me want to teach sociology, so I started applying for graduate schools. I got my master’s with a specialization in family studies from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and then earned my doctorate from the University of New Hampshire.”
Kemmerer began lecturing at SUNY Oneonta in 2016. A typical morning for her begins at about 6:30 a.m. when she arrives on campus after her hour-and-15-minute commute. After meeting with colleagues or students for coffee, it’s time for class, which is sometimes lecture, sometimes discussion-based.
Her favorite class is Violence in Relationships. Although it’s “rough material,” Kemmerer is passionate about spreading awareness. Other favorites include Rural Crime, which she developed, and Senior Seminar, where she “gets to dive deep and have important discussions with a small group of students who really understand the concepts.”
Being The Change
Kemmerer’s favorite part of teaching is the meaningful connections she makes with her students. At the end of the day, her main goal is to make a difference, which is fitting for someone with a tattoo that says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
She recalls a moment in class when she showed her students a graph showing median income for different racial groups and asked them if they noticed anything “wrong with this picture.” One student thanked her for opening his eyes to issues of racial inequality.
Kemmerer said she hopes to develop more classes related to violence against women and expand her research, exploring violence against women specifically in rural areas. Since many of her classes deal with heavy material, she tries to incorporate some fun aspects such as watching films, going on field trips, or offering research opportunities on topics students care about – like eating habits on campus.
“I want everyone to do well in my classes,” she said. “I love when the subject matter really connects with students and you can see that. Even if I get through to a handful of students a semester, making those connections makes it so worth it.”
Mental Health Matters
Another topic Kemmerer is passionate about is mental health. She suffers from anxiety and depression and said she has gone to a therapist her whole life.
“There is a real stigma surrounding it,” Kemmerer said. “I think graduate students, in particular, are overlooked in this regard, but it’s a real issue. I remember what it’s like to have to work four jobs to make ends meet and then, when I went to defend my dissertation the first time, I failed. It can be really tough. It’s not all rainbows.”
Kemmerer says the thing she is most proud of is the fact that, after facing so many hurdles, she still graduated and became the first person in her family with a doctorate. She is happy to be a role model for her three younger sisters.
“We’re all human,” she said. “And we all struggle. And that’s one thing I really stress to my students. I’m a human, I empathize. Take it one day at a time, and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help if you need it.”