American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
January-March 2017

Pat White, a Force for Sociology, Retires from the NSF

Roberta Spalter-Roth, George Mason University

“Pat White is a force! Few sociologists have had as big an impact on the discipline,” said Brian Powell, Indiana University, about Patricia White, who recently retired as the Program Director for the Sociology Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). He is one of many sociologists who mourn Pat’s recent retirement. Patricia E. White, an Ohio State University PhD, was Program Director for the Sociology Program, Division of Social and Economic Sciences at the NSF, where she was employed since 1988. At NSF she was coordinator of the Social and Political Sciences Cluster, served as a senior analyst in the NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics, and also held Program Officer positions in the NSF Methodology, Measurement and Statistics and Law and Social Science programs.

Recognizing that many scholars did not know that NSF supports research that uses qualitative methods, she took a leadership role in communicating “scientific standards” for qualitative research in the social sciences for both investigators developing proposals and reviewers evaluating the merit of the research. She co-authored two reports on the topic, Scientific Foundations of Qualitative Research with Charles Ragin and Joane Nagel and Interdisciplinary Standards for Qualitative Research with Michèle Lamont. ASA President,

“Patricia E. White was tireless in advocating for our discipline and in identifying and moving resources our way,” said Lamont. “In particular, she put considerable energy into advocating for qualitative and mixed-methods research across the social sciences in a scientific environment where these methods were often viewed as poor cousins. And she did all this with grace and generosity.”

Based on research that she did as a Visiting Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland-College Park, White was the lead author on the report, A Relational Model for Understanding the Use of Research in the Policy Process. This report, co-authored with Roberta Spalter-Roth, Amy Best, and Kelly Joyce provides a model of a relational approach, emphasizing networks, and examples of sociological research being used to shape public policy and action. Sally T. Hillsman, former ASA Executive Officer, who participated in the NSF workshop that gave rise to this report said, “Pat was also committed to understanding how the very best social science knowledge could be communicated effectively to inform policymakers and the general public."

Strong Advocate for the Discipline

At NSF, White was responsible for the maintenance of major datasets widely used by social scientists. She represented NSF on several project boards—the General Social Survey, the Integrated Public Use Macrodata Series (IPUMS International), the School Attendance Boundary Information System, and the Luxemburg Income Study.

“During my time as Program Officer at NSF, I worked very closely with Pat White,” Jan E. Stets, University of California,-Riverside, said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a stronger advocate for the discipline. She promoted sociology to so many people inside the Foundation and elsewhere, and she did so relentlessly. She believed that sociologists had something to say in advancing science, and she worked to show others that what we did mattered. She carried out her work with care, rigor, and integrity.”

A former ASA Minority Fellow, Pat was a role model for and mentor to each new cohort of MFP fellows as they joined the ranks of accomplished sociologists. To encourage submissions to the Sociology Program, she ran workshops for underserved minority graduate students and faculty. She funded programs to help young sociologists begin their research careers, such as the Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline. She also presented widely attended workshops at ASA meetings to inform sociologists about the grants available to them and how to develop proposals, as well as on cutting-edge topics funded by NSF such as “Big Data.” She was tireless in advancing the discipline and leaves a prodigious legacy.

Reeve Vanneman, University of Maryland and a former Program Officer, spoke for all of us when he said, “I will miss her presence at NSF, but I suspect her next chapter will continue to show her remarkable character to all of us.” Her fellow sociologists agree.