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New PhD Program at Central Florida

by Victoria Hougham, Academic and Professional Affairs Program

The Florida Board of Governors for Higher Education unanimously approved this summer a new PhD program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando that is distinguished by its rigorous methodological and statistical requirements and by its strong applied, community-oriented focus.

Through its ongoing relationships with the Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies at UCF, the new program has developed strong working relationships with a large number of community agencies, both public and private, throughout the Orlando metropolitan area. In testimony before the Board of Governors, UCF Provost Terry Hickey remarked that the PhD program “highlights UCF’s need for an applied sociology program [to] address social issues that affect our expanding central Florida metropolitan mission—including rapid change, growth and diversity of our population, crime, domestic violence, and urban and environmental sociology.”

Also testifying in support of the PhD proposal was Robert H. Brown, President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and also the elected chair of the Council of Agency Executives, a group whose members include the CEOs of 72 agencies that receive funding through the United Way. Brown noted, “I am here to affirm the tremendous need in our community for people with PhD-level research skills to work in agencies, such as the Coalition, for the betterment of the entire community.”

Four Focus Areas

Initially, the UCF program will focus on four main areas of specialization, these corresponding to the principal research interests of the faculty: social inequalities; urban and environmental sociology; criminology and deviance; and domestic violence. In each track there is a strong emphasis on applied and evaluation research that features an applied research practicum. The program also features interdisciplinary links to a number of other UCF programs.

The UCF sociology program has offered a highly successful master’s degree in applied sociology for many years, and the new PhD degree is a logical extension of that program. Graduates from the master’s program have gone on to PhD studies at universities such as the University of Florida, University of Delaware, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado, Emory University, Northeastern University, University of Illinois-Chicago, and many others.

UCF sociologists are active researchers and have published extensively. Many hold offices in regional and national professional associations. In the past academic year alone, they have published 28 research articles in refereed professional journals, including Social Forces, Journal of Family Issues, and American Journal of Criminal Justice.

In recent years, outside funding of the department’s research agenda has increased dramatically, with large research grants from the National Institute of Justice, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as numerous local sources. One-third of the fulltime faculty have external research support. The department currently houses the editorial offices of two journals, Social Science Research (James Wright, editor) and Homicide Studies (Jay Corzine, editor).

With consistent support from high-level administration, including President John Hitt and Dean Kathryn Seidel, the number of sociology faculty at UCF has increased from seven in 1995 to 18 in 2004. Senior-level hires tied to the plan to initiate a PhD program include James D. Wright, who joined the department in 2001 as a Provost Distinguished Research Professor, and Riley Dunlap, who will join the department in January 2005. These recent hires add to a strong foundation of sociology faculty.

As the nation’s 28th largest metropolitan area, Orlando’s 1.6-million population offers excellent opportunities for this new community-integrated sociological research department. Orlando’s population is one of the most varied in the United States, with significant representation from numerous Caribbean-basin nations adding to its population diversity. The metropolitan area offers local opportunities for doctoral students to conduct research on crime, domestic violence, homelessness, migration, population growth, urban sprawl, and diversity and environmental issues. With a total enrollment of more than 43,000 students, UCF is now among the nation’s 15 largest universities.

The new sociology program will admit its first cohort of students in the fall of 2005, bringing the number of U.S. universities offering a PhD degree in sociology to 202. In addition, there are 144 masters-only programs, bringing the total to 347 graduate programs.

For further information or application materials, contact Jana Jasinski, Graduate Program Director, at 407-823-6568 or by email: jjasinsk@mail.ucf.edu. For more information on departmental faculty and programs, visit www.cas.ucf.edu/soc_anthro/.