Centenary student wins award for best undergraduate sociology paper at regional conference

SHREVEPORT, LA — Mariposa Deutsch, a senior sociology major at Centenary, was recently awarded the Southern Sociological Society (SSS)’s 2022 Odum Award for best undergraduate paper in the southern United States. Deutsch received the award and presented her research at the SSS conference held April 6-9 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Deutsch’s project, “From PATRIARCHY to PATRIarchy: Exploring Gender Transformations in Religious Ex-Cult Members,” emerged from research conducted alongside Dr. Michelle Wolkomir, professor of sociology at Centenary. Wolkomir and Deutsch were awarded a faculty/student research grant from the College in 2021 to continue exploring a research question that had first emerged during Wolkomir’s “Sex & Gender in Society” course in the spring of 2020.

“Throughout course discussions of some complex material, Mari demonstrated an intense interest and sophisticated understanding of some of the most complicated, nuanced aspects of theoretical frames for understanding the intersection of the power dynamics gender and sexuality,” explained Wolkomir. “As Mari's advisor, I also knew that she easily qualified to earn honors in sociology, and we began to discuss her interest in attaining honors and a potential topic. We both became fascinated by the idea of exploring how ex-cult members in a very patriarchal group learned to ‘deprogram’ and adapt to mainstream gender/sexuality.”

After applying for and receiving the research grant, Deutsch and Wolkomir began identifying participants and conducting interviews to collect their primary data. Deutsch was responsible for coding the interview transcripts to identify themes, and used this data to write the award-winning conference paper with Wolkomir’s input and advice.

“Because this was a qualitative study focusing on information that emerged from the data collected, almost everything we learned was a surprise,” said Deutsch. “In re-reading interview transcripts I have been very surprised by how consistent the emergent themes were across the participants' experiences, down to the kinds of language they used and the overall ‘arc’ of their personal stories.”

Wolkomir believes that Centenary’s focus on unique opportunities for students, such as collaborative research with faculty, is an area in which the College excels.

“These kinds of projects allow students to apply what they have learned to a culminating experience few undergraduates experience,” explained Wolkomir. “These students are often doing graduate level work, enabling them to not only become more advanced and sophisticated at their work but also to develop applications for graduate school and employment that distinguish them from their peers. In this case, Mari developed an exceptional analysis. Watching her learn to find, examine and analyze the patterns of human activity, drawing what seem to be disparate events into a seamless story about how gender power dynamics and sexuality intertwine across two cultural settings, is the best part of being a professor. At the core, higher education is the business of learning to develop new knowledge. Being part of that process as an undergraduate does graduate level work is both a moment of gratitude and joy.”

Deutsch’s experience at the SSS conference presented new perspectives and possibilities for expanding on the existing project as well as revisiting some of the original research questions. For Wolkomir, seeing Deutsch achieve larger recognition for her work has been both personally and professionally satisfying.

“Research projects like this one establish a deep sense of relationship with students and give meaning to our work,” said Wolkomir. “Learning that Mari received this award was poignant – a testament to her work and intellectual curiosity and to the kinds of opportunities Centenary enables for its students.”


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