Wilson Experience Guides Sierra Schnable's '12 Graduate Research at Brandeis

Since graduating from Wilson in 2012, Sierra Schnable has been hard at work completing a dual master’s degree in sociology and gender studies at Brandeis University in Boston.

She is working on her master’s thesis, which involves studying the unique social structure of certain Protestant churches in the Boston area that avidly support their LGTBQ (lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer) members.

“It’s beautiful,” said Schnable. “There are whole churches here that are made up of gay and lesbian members that are open to other lifestyles.”

Schnable is spending the summer interviewing the leaders and members of those churches to find how their institutions differ from other churches that may be uncomfortable with LGTBQ members.

“It’s important to me to see how these churches are working and how we can make that work everywhere else,” she said.

Schnable developed her interest in sociology at Wilson College, where she majored in sociology and minored in women’s studies, dance and political science. Her senior research project, entitled “The Value of a Women’s College,” involved interviewing alumnae and asking them how attending a women’s college has affected their lives and careers.

“I wanted to get to the heart of how Wilson impacted their life course,” said Schnable, who is from the Fayetteville, Pa., area.

The opportunity to conduct independent research helped prepare her for her work at Brandeis.

“Many students don’t get to do independent research,” Schnable said. “That has been a great advantage. The whole experience was a great jumping-off point for my work now.”

Schnable also credits working with Wilson’s sociology department, which she served as a work-study tutor, for giving her confidence in her assistantships at Brandeis. She worked closely with her adviser, Associate Professor of Sociology Julie Raulli.

"Not only was Sierra an excellent student, she was also a gifted tutor for students who took 'Introduction to Sociology,'” Raulli said. “It was wonderful to watch her grow as both a sociologist and as a teacher during her time at Wilson."

Schnable was awarded scholarship support in the field of sociology in her senior year at Wilson through the Carolyn Zeleny Prize, which is awarded to a junior or senior in the field of sociology on the basis of academic excellence or community service.

In addition, during her time at Wilson, she was involved in the Scholars Program and graduated summa cum laude with honors in the discipline of sociology.

Although she is a second-generation Wilson legacy student (her mother, Regina Stake, graduated with the Class of 1992), Schnable was at first unsure whether she wanted to attend Wilson. After considering a number of schools, she decided to visit the campus and soon thereafter, her choice became clear.

“When we started visiting, I asked (my mom) about her experiences, and the things she found at Wilson were what I was looking for,” she said. “Those things were important to her, and I found those things too.”

Schnable especially appreciated Wilson’s traditions, the level of interaction with the professors and classroom dynamics.

At Brandeis, she incorporates Wilson’s teachings into her daily work. “As a (teaching assistant), I noticed the professors weren’t managing the dynamics of who was talking and who was being heard in the classroom,” she said.

The education Schnable received at Wilson continues to guide her in other ways, as well.

“I could go on and on about the things that I got from Wilson that I use at Brandeis,” said Schnable. “I loved the Wilson experience I had.”