Christian Vaccaro

Christian Vaccaro

Whether you know it or not, if you are curious about people, you are a sociologist.

At its core, sociology is about understanding people and their roles in society, and having a grasp of that can do a lot for a person’s career.

Christian Vaccaro turned his curiosity into a career as a faculty member in IUP’s Department of Sociology. Learn about him in this installment of Meet Our Faculty.

What is it about the sociology field that initially drew you in—and ultimately keeps you interested?

Like most students who come to major in sociology, I arrived later in my academic career, because I didn’t realize what the field was or how it could be beneficial to me. While completing my undergraduate degree, I became very interested in questions about how individuals can create meaningful careers for themselves that help them fulfill their life’s purpose.

So, I took the initiative to look for purposeful work in an unlikely place, amongst the hot, dirty, and dangerous jobs in the steel mill, by interviewing steelworkers about the meaningfulness of their labor. What I learned from them is that meaningful work is possible anywhere, and what I learned from my professors was that I was doing sociological research without realizing it. From there, I was sold.

Since then, my research has taken me to a lot of fascinating places and to study lots of interesting people—from grisly mixed martial arts fighters in dingy gyms striving to be the best, to constituents lobbying politicians on timely issues, and to executives and managers in the nonprofit and public sector engaged in leadership efforts of all types.

Learning from these individuals and contexts helps to paint a picture of how people interacting with each other creates social expectations and demands and sustains contexts that exert influence on them, which patterns their behaviors, identities, and emotions in interesting ways.

Why do you enjoy teaching in this discipline?

Sociology is such a versatile academic field. It is geared toward developing the 21st-century job skills of critical thinking, research interpretation, and theoretical reasoning. These skills are applied to understanding the patterns of how people interact within groups, organizations, and societal institutions in sociology.

The field helps students in all majors, because knowing how groups and organizations function properly helps us operate and lead effectively within them, and knowing how they function poorly gives us insight to identify effective strategies to change them in beneficial ways.

Most students—in fact about 95 percent—who major in sociology go on to work in fields “doing sociology” under a different job title than “sociologist.”

Many majors go on to make great contributions in human and social services, management and administration, UX (user experience), marketing and sales, and teaching.

What advice would you give students about how to succeed in college?

Most students think that a prosperous career requires selecting a major that has direct ties to a specific career. But when you look at what the “secret sauce” is that makes someone successful, you’ll surprisingly find that most often it didn’t have much to do with the specific set of skills they learned in their major.

Instead, most successful people who love their work will tell you that it is due to a combination of doing something they enjoy and being able to connect it to what they feel is making a meaningful and fulfilling impact on the world. College allows you an opportunity to explore and grow who you are in these respects, in addition to the job training you receive.

Understanding that the personal growth and soft skills you get to develop here are as important as the value of the specific job training is key. It may even be more important, because personal growth has greater and longer-lasting potential to propel you forward as a self-directed and self-actualizing individual. So, I advise you to take as much time in college to learn and grow your horizons as you do to train on a job skill.