May 23, 2016

Whitney N. Yarber, Communications Specialist

Dr. Thomas Hochschild Jr. Honored with President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Pictured, from left to right, is Dr. Cecil P. Staton, interim president of VSU, and Dr. Thomas Hochschild Jr., an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice.

VALDOSTA – Dr. Thomas Hochschild Jr. is the recipient of Valdosta State University’s 2016 President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

The President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching is presented to a full-time faculty member who has worked at VSU for a minimum of three years and displays a strong and consistent commitment to advancing the quality and practice of teaching and learning; develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills and/or global and multicultural understanding; uses effective teaching strategies to enhance student learning, including innovative uses of technology, active learning communities, student portfolios, and assessment; and fosters the academic success of VSU students through interaction outside of the classroom.

Hochschild, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, was selected by the College of Arts and Sciences Presidential Award Committee for his presentation of specific examples of interactions with students, use of innovative technology, and encouragement of interactive and service learning both in- and outside of the classroom.

Whether he is speaking about topics such as race, gender, social class, media, deviance, social psychology, or research methods, Hochschild utilizes a number of exercises and strategies to impact student learning. He said one of his top priorities is to impart how sociological ways of thinking can be of use both personally and professionally.

“If there is one phrase that encapsulates my teaching, it is ‘applied engagement,’” said Hochschild, who joined the Blazer Nation family in August 2011. “As an avid reader of books and journal articles regarding teaching and learning, I am well aware that if students are not meaningfully engaged in the course material, they are less likely to think critically about the material, apply the material, remember the material, and enjoy the material. Therefore, I strive to make learning fun and relevant to students’ lives.

“Because of advances in technology, our students have access to a broad amount of information, misinformation, and opinions. As a social scientist and sociology teacher, I consider it my responsibility to ensure that students can determine valid and reliable information from information that is not valid or reliable. To this end, I incorporate discussions of social theory and research methods in all of my courses.”

Noted as a “committed, devoted, and, from all accounts, masterful teacher in the classroom” by Dr. Connie L. Richards, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Hochschild uses a dynamic teaching approach that incorporates PowerPoint lectures, student-led homework discussions, in-class group activities, service learning, guest speakers, on-campus cultural events, computer lab assignments, online discussions, outdoor activities, field trips, and video clips in order to benefit students with different learning styles.

“Dr. Hochschild’s teaching style is buttressed by high energy, dynamic enthusiasm, effective communication skills, and interspersed with appropriate humor, demonstrating his passion for conveying topical information for students,” said Dr. Darrell L. Ross, head of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice.

In SOCI 1101: Introduction to Sociology, he implements one of his more popular activities titled “Step to Privilege.” After a short walk to VSU’s front lawn, students are lined up side-by-side and then asked to step forward, or backward, depending on the privilege or obstacle they have experienced in life.

“For example, if one of the students’ parents graduated from college, they take two steps forward,” said Hochschild. “If the student grew up in a neighborhood where drugs where prevalent, they take one step backward. By the end of the 75 questions, there is great dispersion among students. I ask students in the front to reflect on the questions I asked and the privileges they have benefitted from. Conversely, I ask students toward the back of the group about the obstacles they have had to overcome in order to be college students at Valdosta State University.”

Hochschild said the feedback he receives from the students indicates that the activity profoundly affects their ability to recognize the social factors that have affected their life chances.

After a lesson on interviewing in SOCI 3510: Research Methods, he asks students to break off into separate rooms and practice their interviewing skills as the interviewer, the interviewee, and the assessor. He creates a similar activity for a lesson on focus groups.

“When discussing the method of content analysis, I have students analyze gendered photographs in popular magazines,” he said. “Working in small groups, students learn how to operationalize and code variables during this hands-on activity.”

For their primary research project, Hochschild requires students to conduct non-participant research observations of a social group of interest. After conducting a literature review and analyzing the data, students are asked to present their findings to classmates.

In SOCI 3350: Social Deviance, he requires students to wear a temporary tattoo on their wrist, neck, or face for one week. Throughout the week, students are asked to keep a record of all of the reactions they receive from family, friends, and strangers.

Hochschild said the experience of living with the temporary stigma helps students understand the techniques of stigma management and offers a glimpse of the lived experience of others with short-term, long-term, and invisible stigmas.

In SOCI 4800: Self and Community Service, Hochschild implements an activity called, “The Examined Life” where, after discussing Socrates’ notion that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” students are asked to rate themselves in terms of being a good person, caring about others, and keeping informed about social issues, environmentalism, and other issues. He then hands out the second part of the assignment that requires students to report the amount of community service they have performed in the past year, as well as the number of pro-social organizations they belong to, the amount of recycling they have done, the amount of money they have donated to charity, and several other pro-social behaviors.

“Typically, scores on the first part of the activity are much higher than on the second part of the activity,” said Hochschild. “The implication of the activity is that many students’ behaviors do not fully align with their attitudes. We then discuss how we can restructure our lives for the betterment of others and the planet.”

He noted that students are asked to retake the second part of the activity at the end of the semester and their scores show much improvement.

With regard to his applied engagement approach to teaching, as well as his passion for internalizing the importance of reducing the ecological footprint and helping others who are less fortunate, Hochschild said he requires students in most of his courses to expand their sociological knowledge by attending educational and cultural events on campus.

“With a central focus on social problems, sociology often sometimes comes across as doom and gloom to students,” he said. “I make a concerted effort to ensure that students leave my courses with a sense of empowerment. Through service learning, advocacy initiatives, and social justice pedagogy, many students report feeling the ‘helper’s high’ associated with addressing community problems. These assignments are a reflection of my personal commitment to social justice and positive social change.”

In his Introduction to Sociology course, students are required to attend a play performed by VSU’s Theatre and Dance Area and a second educational event in their personal area of interest and then provide a written assessment of the performance’s sociological relevance.

Students in his Self and Community Services course are also required to complete at least 20 hours of service while detailing their experiences and applying sociological ideas in a personal reflection journal.

“In my [Self and Community Services] course, groups of five students become advocacy teams that learn about, teach, and effect change pertaining to one social problem,” he said. “In one class, we talked via Skype — through an interpreter — with former female sweatshop workers in the Dominican Republic. We heard about their difficult experiences and low pay working in textile factories. Now, these workers work for a company called Alta Gracia, which is a fair trade company that makes T-shirts and other clothing for universities across the country. Through their advocacy team, several students convinced the VSU bookstore to carry Alta Gracia merchandise. This is just one of many rewarding projects my students have worked on.”

Hochschild also encourages students to participate in his spring recycling program, Give and Go. At the end of every spring semester, he and student volunteers collect nonperishable food, furniture, clothing, and household items from students moving out of the residence halls and donate them to Second Harvest of South Georgia. All of the items are distributed to families in need.

While Student Opinion of Instruction scores, peer evaluations, student comments, and various assessment tools suggest high levels of student engagement and learning, Hochschild said he is always looking for new ways to improve his pedagogy.

Hochschild earned a Bachelor of Science in sociology in May 2003 and a Master of Arts in sociology in May 2004, both from Cleveland State University in Ohio. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy in sociology from the University of Connecticut in July 2011.

He is the author of eight peer-reviewed publications and three in-progress manuscripts and a three-time journal reviewer for Teaching Sociology. He has taught three study abroad courses in France and Russia and organized 10 conference sessions and presentations pertaining to the field of sociology throughout his career.

Contact Dr. Thomas Hochschild Jr. at or (229) 333-5483 for more information.

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Valdosta State University’s 2013-2019 Strategic Plan represents a renewal of energy and commitment to the foundational principles for comprehensive institutions.

Implementation of the plan’s five goals, along with their accompanying objectives and strategies, supports VSU’s institutional mission and the University System of Georgia’s mission for comprehensive universities.

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Goal 1: Recruit, retain, and graduate a quality, diverse student population and prepare students for roles as leaders in a global society.

Goal 3: Promote student, employee, alumni, retiree, and community engagement in our mission.

Goal 4: Foster an environment of creativity and scholarship.

Goal 5: Develop and enhance Valdosta State’s human and physical resources.

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