Cortney Epps


Since deciding to major in Sociology while attending Christopher Newport University, I have become interested in how this discipline, along with my interest in the environment, can be applied to my view of social life and turned into a potential career. I never thought that I would find this connection between two seemingly incompatible fields; however, last summer I worked for an Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Virginia and my entire perspective concerning how society is affected by the environment, specifically agriculture, changed.

While working at the research center, I worked in a group within the Pathology department who dealt exclusively with tobacco plants. During the summer, I aided in field experiments, applications of pesticides, soil sample analyses, and data collection. Through these hands-on experiences, I began to grasp just how fields along the side of the road played a role in society. From my sociological background, I know that society itself is complex, but I have learned to understand it at a deeper level. There are large-scale and small-scale factors that affect nearly every choice we as individuals make. I have learned that in order to appreciate the world I live in, I must be able to look through many different perspectives to comprehend the context of my own environment. Through this discipline, I have the ability to recognize the underlying forces at work when people interact with each other. By applying this knowledge to my previous summer job at the station, a more complete picture of just how interwoven disciplines and fields of studies are began to emerge. Comprehensively, it was becoming apparent to me that not only is it important to focus on the physical, biological, and natural environment we receive benefits from every day, but these also play a part in our man-made environment as well.

From working with tobacco plants, I began to see that the researchers were not the only ones benefiting from the work being done. I learned that the work we were doing had a further-reaching impact than I initially thought. In pesticide applications and field experiments, the end goal in mind was to see which pesticides were better for certain varieties of tobacco and overall growth. In doing so, this would later on help to determine which would be widely used by farmers or which would not. Industry standards affect the communities that live nearby and the people who consistently come in contact with the pesticides that have been applied. This is specifically when I started seeing that what I was participating in was more important than just a summer job.

When I came back to school and started taking more Anthropology, Ecology, and Health related courses, it only sparked my interest more. By taking these classes, wider and broader connections were being made to how people, health, and the environment are all large players in society. I realized that my understanding of the dynamics from which humans interact and the way society is shaped because of them was of great use to my personal interest in the environment. These are not just parts of our social life that can be separated, they are all in relation to one another and impact each other. Consequently, the environment is a large influence in the lives of many people, though it tends to go unnoticed as a contributing factor.
The environment, simply put, is just another way to understand people in the context of their community and social setting.
Currently, that summer job and my major have led to me to look into potential careers that involve this mix of fields. One internship I am seeking mixes these two areas of interest. This internship would give me the experience of working with extension agents in local counties and places within a community. The areas I would work in would be concerned with 4-H, agriculture and natural resources, or family and consumer sciences. In any of these sections, I know that my sociological background, supplemented by my anthropological understanding, would be useful. I say this because I know how valuable the ability to see someone through their own life circumstances affects the context in which they live and their own understanding of the environment around them.

For instance, information that that might seem common knowledge to me might not even be knowledge at all to another person. In potential positions like this, I could give basic and fundamental knowledge, like how to be eat healthier or how to properly transplant flowers when putting them in a pot, but be able to deliver this education in a way that is meaningful to those individuals based off of their own needs and circumstances. In this way, I would be aiding in the development of programs and useful information that could reach a large majority of the counties where this work would be implemented. Ultimately, through potential careers in a field like extension, I am able to mix my educational background in sociology and my interest in the environment into one that will be useful to spreading the understanding of how these fields link to other people. The environment, simply put, is just another way to understand people in the context of their community and social setting.

Cortney Epps is a senior at Christopher Newport University. She will graduate in December 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Ultimately, she hopes to use her degree focused in the social sciences as an outreach tool in local communities to further her own experiences and aid the knowledge of others.

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