Impact of Gifts

Each gift to the Department of Sociology has a genuine impact, regardless of size. Your donation to the Department of Sociology Annual Fund helps us foster the high level of engagement and collegiality that is one of the hallmarks of our department and recruit the highest caliber faculty and students. Below are just a few examples of the impact of alumni gifts.

Undergraduate Support

Jesse Kearns and Carol Sperka
Jesse Kearns (left) and Carol Sperka

Jesse Kearns: Sociology Major, Sperka Award Winner, Nontraditional Student

How many of our undergraduates have worked in roughly 75 jobs in 25 fields? Only Jesse Kearns, who has been everything from a photographer's assistant, to a union boilermaker, to a bartender and a retail manager--and many things in between. At the age of 33, having lived in Hawaii for many years, the Wausau native enrolled at University of Wisconsin- Marathon County (one of the 13 two-year colleges in the UW System), with plans to finish his bachelor's degree at a UW school close to home. After three semesters earning top grades, however, Jesse transferred to UW-Madison, thanks largely to the support and encouragement of his professors at UWMC.

Jesse says that attending UW-Madison was not in his plans. "But I'm here because of my experiences at UW Colleges-Marathon County. I felt that UW-Madison was beyond my reach, based on both my upbringing and my previous educational experiences." He acknowledges that while his background is unique on this campus, he appreciates the bonuses of his age and wisdom in the classroom and while conducting research. Roughly 3 percent of the campus's undergraduate enrollment is composed of students over the age of 24.

As the 2015 Sperka Award winner, Jesse thanked Carol Sperka, saying "I will do everything I can to ensure that this gift is a part of a future that is dedicated to being worthy of such generosity. . . . All I can do now is say thank you, and continue to dedicate my time and energy in a way that Andrea might have found worthy." The Andrea Michelle Sperka Fund was established by Carol and Michael Sperka in memory of their beloved daughter who, as a senior sociology major, lost her life in Botswana following a study abroad experience. In addition to carrying a demanding academic load and working to meet expenses, Andrea volunteered with homeless children in Madison and South Africa. Recipients of this award exemplify the outstanding qualities that Andrea possessed and keep the memory of this bright and caring young woman alive.

Of Jesse's talents, Sociology Professor Mike Massoglia says, "Jesse is always meticulously prepared, makes important contributions to class discussions and has among the best scores in the entire class. He is a remarkable asset to other students and is one of the best students I have ever had the pleasure of working with."

Jesse intends to continue studying sociology as a graduate student in ethnography, bringing his knowledge and experience to another generation of young sociologists.

Undergraduate award winners, honor society inductees, Department Chair Pamela Oliver, and donor
Carol Sperka
Undergraduate award winners join new honor society inductees, Department Chair Pamela Oliver, and donor Carol Sperka at an April awards ceremony honoring their achievements. These awards are the result of generous contributions from and in honor of former members of our department.

About the 2015 Reschke Winners

Pablo Montes is a sociology major with a 3.8 GPA and the president of the Working-Class Student Union, currently working on student housing insecurity. Pablo's goal is to earn a Ph.D. in sociology, making him the first in his family to hold a doctorate.

Jennifer Webster is a sociology major interested in ethnography. Sociology has helped her to "understand the cultural experience of what it means to be American and how specific social phenomena can be considered normalized or marginalized." She is a research assistant on Professor Alice Goffman's project on immigrant assimilation and plans to apply to graduate programs to earn a Ph.D. in sociology.

Yunzhe (Melody) Yao: Coming to UW-Madison from Nanking, China, Melody was aware of social stratification as a child. Her city's division by the Yangtze River was both geographical and social, and she grew up in the "decaying north." Her interest in criminal justice stems from a First-Year Interest Group on racial and ethnic disparities, and from her internship with the Criminal Tribunal of Pukou District, China. Melody will be going to the London School of Economics for a year, and then returning for her final year at UW-Madison.

Bianca Schroeder is majoring in sociology and communication sciences and disorders. After she graduates next spring, she plans to go to graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist. She's interested in the social aspects of language and how background and socioeconomic status can affect language development. She works in Professor Jan Edwards' Learning to Talk research lab in the Waisman Center, and she will be working on a senior thesis next year comparing socio-phonetic and lexical-phonetic language development. She hopes to use her sociology background as a speech-language pathologist to work with children of lower socioeconomic status and cultural minorities.

Graduate Support

Marwell award winner 2009
2009 Gerald and Barbara E. Marwell Award winner Matias Cocina

"Receiving the Gerald and Barbara E. Marwell Award for Summer 2009, was both an honor and an incentive, in at least two important ways. First, it allowed me to work on my research projects, after completing a challenging first year as a Sociology graduate student. Being an international student, this was really important support. Second, knowing that there are individuals willing to so generously encourage intellectual effort and academic advancement, reinforced my sense of belonging to a professional and academic community that is engaged in a long term intellectual project, through the formation and support of new generations of researchers."
-- Matias Cocina

Matias Cocina is the 2009 recipient of the Marwell Fund Award, a fund established in 2008 by Gerald and Barbara E. Marwell as supplementary recruitment funding for graduate training and research in sociology.

From the Donor's Perspective

The Hong-wen and Cheen Liao Graduate Scholarship in Sociology was established in 2009. Hong-wen is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a master's and PhD in the Department of Sociology and her husband, Cheen, graduated from UW-Madison with a master's degree in Computer Sciences.

Appreciative of their educational experience on our campus, Hong-wen and Cheen generously decided to give back to the next generation of students by establishing funds in both the Department of Sociology and the Department of Computer Sciences. The Liao Graduate Scholarship Fund in Sociology assists accomplished graduate students with financial need. To personalize their support, Hong-wen and Cheen requested that support of a Taiwanese student would be particularly meaningful as it reflects their background and personal experience while meeting a direct departmental need.

If you would like more information on funds to support graduate and undergraduate students see our Sociology Funds page. Also see the current Wisconsin Update for a complete list of award winners and their interests.