American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Lata Murti

Lata Murti, Brandman University,  works with Partners in Education, a nonprofit organization that operates under the umbrella of the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO), to coordinate volunteers and business resources. In Santa Maria, Partners in Education works in partnership with the Santa Maria Valley YMCA, in order to deliver the Countywide Volunteer Program to Santa Maria schools and afterschool sites. ASA asked Murti about that work:

What is the mission of Partners in Education? The mission is to connect businesses and individuals with schools and youth-serving nonprofit organizations, in order to improve public education in ways that support a more vibrant economy, the health of our community, and the well-being of local children and their families.

Could you describe the project? Partners in Education offers many ways to get involved in local schools. My main role as a volunteer is guest speaking in classrooms and at Career Days in public schools throughout the county. I speak about my career as a sociologist and also about the benefits of pursuing a college education. I highlight the importance of technology, higher education, sociology—specifically, what sociologists do and why it is important—as well as the different ways to fund a college education. The schools I have visited include the local juvenile hall, where I have found that students share the most interesting sociological insights and questions. Interacting with the students and teachers at the local juvenile hall school has inspired me to consider conducting qualitative research on how the teachers experience the intersection of race, class, and gender in their professional lives.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills do you use? I have to describe what sociology is to public school youth who have never heard of sociology before. I compare and contrast sociology to psychology and describing basic sociological method as well as explaing why sociology is important today, using current events as examples. I also briefly describing my qualitative study of Indian immigrant doctors in Southern California, including my findings.

How did you connect with Partners in Education? I connected with this organization as a member of the Santa Maria Valley YMCA. On my membership form, I indicated that I was interested in volunteering locally. I also connected with this organization through the Santa Maria Valley campus of Brandman University.

Duration of the project? Approximately three and a half years and ongoing

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? As an associate professor of sociology who now teaches completely online, I find these classroom and school presentations to be deeply satisfying personally and professionally. What good is sociology if the general public, and particularly the young general public, do not understand it and its importance? In concluding my presentations, I often say, "I hope I have shared something with you today that you find helpful or useful, even if it is that you want to be nothing like me in the future. At least you know that now. At least I have helped you gain that knowledge." I also talk to the students about the importance of taking risks and failing; and I share with them some of my own failures. I tell them that we need to fail in order to learn our strengths and how to succeed.