Assistant Professor Jeffrey Stokes joins the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies as the newest faculty member after studying and teaching sociology and a track record of working on and researching issues related to health and equity. McCormack Speaks sat down with Dr. Stokes to learn more about his research, teaching, and future goals as the newest faculty member.
SA: Tell us about your professional experiences and interests, particularly those not mentioned on your CV.
JS: After graduating from Boston College, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, then worked in an Office of Sponsored Programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Having this first-hand experience with social programming and academic research fueled my desire to enter academia myself and conduct research to improve the lives of others. I returned to Boston College for my PhD in Sociology and, following a year as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University, I am thrilled to be back in Boston joining the Gerontology Department and the McCormack Graduate School.
SA: Why did you decide to pursue advanced studies and teaching in the fields of sociology and gerontology?
JS: As an undergraduate, I was deeply influenced by a few outstanding professors, and knew I wanted a similar career for myself someday. I was particularly interested in issues of health and equity, and this focus on the social determinants of health led to my choosing to pursue a PhD in sociology. During my graduate training, I became increasingly drawn to life course studies, and to exploring the ways in which social factors can contribute to widening – or reducing – health disparities over time. Demographic shifts and the aging population make gerontology an especially important and dynamic field right now, as well.
SA: What excites you most about teaching at the McCormack Graduate School and at UMass Boston?
JS: There are a number of reasons why joining the McCormack Graduate School and UMass Boston excites me. First, my wife and I are both from the Boston area and so this was an opportunity for us to return home and pursue our careers surrounded by family and friends. I also worked as a Data Analyst at the Center for Social Development and Education at UMass Boston during graduate school, so it was a very special homecoming for me to rejoin the university! Beyond that, however, I am very excited to be new faculty at the only public research university in a city known for higher education. The McCormack Graduate School has a unique position as the go-to resource for addressing issues of public importance, not only locally but also nationally and even internationally. The opportunity to train our graduate students – future leaders in the fields of gerontology and public policy here and across the world – is truly thrilling for me.
SA: How do you define good teaching?
JS: I believe the best teaching is not about imparting factual information. Rather, it is about changing the way students see and approach the world, helping students to develop a critical and analytical mindset for addressing social problems. Teaching, in my opinion, is less about preparing students to answer certain questions correctly, and more about preparing them to ask the right questions and to understand how to go about answering them rigorously.
SA: What are some of the projects you hope to pursue in the coming years?
JS: I am currently working on a few papers that explore mechanisms linking social factors such as daily discrimination and social integration with physical health outcomes. Moving forward, I am hoping to engage in a longer-term project that will examine dyadic links between marital quality, loneliness, and biomarkers of physical health among married older adults over a decade-long span. I also plan to pursue additional projects concerning neighborhood age demographics and older adults’ well-being. Lastly, I am excited to advise and mentor graduate students as they develop their own independent research projects.
SA: Anything else that you’d like to share with the MGS community?
JS: I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the MGS community and hope to get to know many of you better over the coming months and years. If you ever find yourself on the 3rd floor of Wheatley Hall, my door is always open!