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Mobley receives Class of ’39 Award

Catherine Mobley

Catherine Mobley

Anyone who pays attention to the news knows that STEM education and environmental sustainability are hot topics, deemed crucial to our country’s ability to remain competitive and to our long-term economic prospects. Since long before these topics started generating headlines, this year’s Class of ’39 Award for Excellence recipient has been applying her expertise to generate innovative and comprehensive approaches to these important topics.

Sociology professor Catherine Mobley’s research in these areas has not been isolated, as she has collaborated with colleagues in a variety of disciplines across campus. Whether she’s examining human behavior as it pertains to water quality and quantity, college student perceptions of environmental issues or the academic experiences and pathways of engineering majors, Mobley’s research is marked by creative collaboration and insights that “would not otherwise emerge if I were working in isolation.”

That creative collaboration in research has been supported by more than $10 million in grants on which she has been either principal or co-investigator. And it extends into the classroom as well. She has engaged in several interdisciplinary teaching endeavors, has mentored more than 300 students seeking field experience in sociology and has served on nearly 70 master’s and Ph.D. committees. A nationally recognized expert on service-learning, she has been a core faculty member for two living-learning communities: the Community Scholars/Civics and Service House and the Leading for the Environment and Future community. Mobley also extends her sociological expertise to her community efforts as well, having served on the board of several local organizations, including the United Way of Pickens County, the Upstate Homeless Coalition and the League of Women Voters of the Clemson Area.

This recognition is particularly meaningful to Mobley, knowing she was chosen by her peers for the award. “I’ve been walking by the Carillon Bell monument for nearly 20 years now, in awe of the people whose names are inscribed there,” she says. “Little did I know when I was attending Clemson University in the early 1980’s that I’d be here 30 years later, pursuing the career of my dreams.”

Described by Interim Dean Bobby McCormick as “a top researcher and dedicated teacher,” Mobley did her undergraduate work at Clemson, graduating in 1984. She earned her master’s in policy analysis and development at the University of Bath in England and her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Maryland. She returned to Clemson in 1996 as assistant professor of sociology, earning tenure in 2001 and promotion to professor of sociology in 2012.

The Class of 1939 established the Award for Excellence in 1989 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the class. It is presented annually to a member of the faculty whose outstanding contributions for a five-year period represent the highest achievement of service to the University, the student body and the larger community.

 

Q&A: Catherine Mobley

CW: What do you enjoy most about your job? Or what’s the most satisfying thing about your job?

Mobley: There’s so much that I enjoy about my career, but perhaps my favorite part is that I am constantly learning something new. No day is ever the same as I am continually challenged to apply sociology in new ways in a diversity of contexts – in the classroom, in my research, both within the field and across other fields in my interdisciplinary research. I especially enjoy engaging in interdisciplinary research and teaching. While I have engaged in independent research, I have had the opportunity to engage in empirical research with colleagues from other discipline across campuss. According to Ernest Boyer’s definition of the “scholarship of integration,” interdisciplinary research consists of making connections across disciplines in order to advance understanding of complex scientific questions and social issues. Indeed, the “lone ranger” concept is rarely effective for investigating the issues that are central to my research efforts. Funding agencies are increasingly recognizing the value of interdisciplinary research and teaching. These efforts also support the recent call on the part of my college and university to increase interdisciplinary research. These research collaborations are beneficial and interesting to me both personally and professionally. I enjoy working with my colleagues to develop and implement creative approaches to challenges that would not otherwise emerge if I was working in isolation. Indeed, I am finding that the most innovative research often emerges at the interface of disciplines. Across campus, I think I am known to be a reliable collaborator who makes substantial contributions to projects and adds value to research teams through my expertise in sociological theory and methods. Together, we have applied for multiple research grants and co-authored research presentations and manuscripts. I have truly enjoyed these experiences!

CW: How do you balance teaching and research?

Mobley: I view both as inevitably intertwined with one another. For example, as I work on my research I am always seeking opportunities to enrich my teaching. And, students often raise questions in the classroom that inspire my research.

CW: Give me a brief description of your research. What piqued your interest in that area (s)?

Mobley: At the current time, my two main areas of research are in the area of environmental sustainability and engineering education. The two topics often overlap with one another, depending on the particular research effort. I have long been personally interested in environmental issues and feel lucky to be able to pursue my personal interests through the lens of the sociological perspective. I’ve been able to explore a vast variety of topics related to environmental sustainability, including human behavior as it pertains to water quality and water quantity, college student perceptions of environmental issues, the influence of formative experiences on the development of environmental concern, and public perception of a variety of sustainability related topics. For the past decade or so, I have been involved with an extensive research project related to engineering education, the MIDFIELD project. This project, headed up by Matt Ohland (formerly at Clemson University and now at Purdue University) involves a study of the academic experiences and pathways of engineering majors from 12 institutions. One part of the research team analyzes a longitudinal database of over a million student records from the 12 MIDFIELD institutions. I have been involved in the qualitative portion of the project, investigating a variety of research questions through focus groups and interviews with engineering transfer students. The most recent qualitative project focused on engineering transfer students and in Fall 2014, my colleagues and I received a NSF grant to investigate the experiences of student veterans at four institutions (University of San Diego, Clemson University, Purdue University, North Carolina State University). I also collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines, such as hydrogeology, to learn more about engineering education.

CW: What does this award mean to you…being chosen by your peers?

Mobley: I am so honored to be receiving this award, especially knowing it is coming from my peers. I’ve been walking by the Carillon Bell monument for nearly 20 years now, in awe of the people whose names are inscribed there. It means so much to me, especially knowing there were so many qualified candidates for the award. Recently, I was talking to a recipient of the Class of ’39 award and learned that one of the purposes of the award is to inspire faculty to do their bes,t and to go above and beyond expectations. This recognition has definitely inspired me! Little did I know when I was attending Clemson University in the early 1980’s that I’d be here 30 years later, pursuing the career of my dreams!