Alumni in the Field

Kathleen Ellion / BA in Sociology, 1999

By Katie Hittmeier, Sociology Undergraduate, Spring 2003

After a College of the Redwoods sociology class, Kathleen felt as though the world made sense and decided to make sociology her major. At this time she was still largely undecided concerning a career choice. Yet she felt that any career would require her to understand people's motivations and the structure of society that facilitates or inhibits them.

After graduating from Humboldt State University in 1999, Kathleen decided upon a career in law enforcement. She is currently working for the Eureka Police Department. In her career not a day goes by when she doesn't think about the concepts, theories, and tools that sociology has to offer. The sociological thought process has become an automatic cognitive response that helps her to unscramble the majority of problems that she encounters during the day.

As an officer for EPD, Kathleen sees repeat offenders and eventually begins to see patterns in their activities. Many of these patterns can be explained by socioeconomic factors. Knowing the situation of these people in society, she is able to recommend community services before a breach of the law occurs. These services may be able to help them as well as prevent further crime. Unfortunately, Kathleen recognizes that law enforcement is highly structured and she has little flexibility in helping people connect with these services after they break the law.

The concepts and information sociology offers also help Kathleen understand the structure of her work environment. As a female police officer, she finds herself in many situations where her ability is questioned. Citizens and fellow workers expect police officers to be strong, intelligent, assertive, and innovative. These are often not characteristics traditionally assigned to females. When women do display these qualities, they are often perceived as bossy, cruel, and mean. Gender issues such as these are explored in many sociology courses and her understanding of historical problems such as these helps her to function and retain her identity.

Kathleen says that being a cop with a sociological background is wonderful. Sociology helps to make sense of crime and the other social problems she encounters. Kathleen tries to operate through a problem-oriented policy where the problem is identified and solved instead of solely making arrests after the problem occurs. Overall, Kathleen believes that "sociology is an excellent background for law enforcement" because it enables the understanding and resolution of social problems. She says, "Sociology makes everything more meaningful."