M.A. Sociology Alumni Achieve Success in Diverse Fields

MA Sociology Alumni

From left to right: Gabriela Calhorrano ’13CPS, ‘15G; Christine Casiano ‘90C, ‘91G; Paul-Brian McInerney ‘95C, ‘98G; and Heather Gautney ‘97G.

December 3, 2018

Sociology, the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior, offers a wide range of applications for those in the field. Sociologists understand social inequality, patterns of behavior, forces for social change and resistance, and how social systems work. They also develop research techniques that are applicable to virtually any aspect of social life.

Alumni of the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Sociology at St. John’s have pursued diverse and exciting career paths. Gabriela Calhorrano ’13CPS, ‘15G, Christine Casiano ‘90C, ‘91G, Heather Gautney ‘97G, and Paul-Brian McInerney ‘95C, ‘98G have all found that the skills and connections they developed at St. John’s led them on a path to success.

Gabriela Calahorrano ‘13CPS, ‘15G

Gabriela Calahorrano ‘13CPS, ‘15G is Staff Attorney with the Central American Refugee Center, a non-profit organization that serves immigrant communities on Long Island. In that role, Ms. Calahorrano provides legal assistance to unaccompanied minors seeking special immigrant juvenile status or refugee status in the United States.

“I identify with my clients and understand their struggles,” said Ms. Calahorrano. “It’s important to have someone to talk to when you’re going through a very difficult time, and it’s hard to find an attorney you can identify with. I think my clients feel more comfortable with me because I’m someone who looks like them and speaks their language, and who is willing to advocate for them.”

A graduate of Hofstra University School of Law, Ms. Calahorrano was equally interested in pursuing a doctoral or law degree when she completed her M.A. in Sociology at St. John’s in 2015. She chose law school so that she could take a more hands-on approach to helping others in her community.

As an undergraduate at St. John’s, Ms. Calahorrano pursued a double major in Legal Studies and Psychology. She also participated in the selective Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, which allowed her to work closely with a faculty member on a research project and present her findings at the 22nd Annual National McNair Research Conference and Graduate Fair. Ms. Calahorrano worked with Associate Professor Dawn Esposito, Ph.D., to prepare a presentation entitled, “Influence of Cell Phones on Academic Performance.” Also with Dr. Esposito, Ms. Calahorrano investigated the impact of variables like immigration on second-language acquisition and presented her findings during St. John’s Research Month. “Dr. Esposito helped me see everything through the lens of sociology. I enjoyed that experience so much that I decided to pursue a master’s degree at St. John’s.” Ms. Calahorrano graduated early with her undergraduate degree, and went on to complete her M.A. in a year and a half.

She found that her master’s degree was excellent preparation for the challenges she would face in law school. “I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of work in my first year of law school because I had cultivated that discipline at St. John’s,” she said. She also found that having a sociological background affords her a wider perspective on issues of immigration as she practices law in that field. Most importantly, Ms. Calahorrano carries the St. John’s Mission of service into her daily work. “I always knew I wanted to give back, but I didn’t know how I would do that until I fell in love with this job,” she said.

Christine Casiano ‘90C, ‘91G

Christine Casiano ‘90C, ‘91G was recently promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Outreach, a New York-based nonprofit organization that offers behavioral health treatment to individuals and families in the community. In her current role, Ms. Casiano oversees the vice presidents in charge of residential and outpatient clinical services, as well as supervising quality improvement, and data collection. She also remains attuned to developments in the behavioral health field to ensure Outreach is prepared for any and all challenges that lie ahead.

“The most important thing for Outreach is to remain true to who we are as an organization and our commitment to the quality of services we provide,” she said. “We emphasize quality of care that leads to long-term positive outcomes for the individuals and families we serve.”

Previously, Ms. Casiano served as Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for Outreach. She has been employed by the organization for 26 years, and was hired immediately after graduating with her MA in Sociology from St. John’s in 1991. Professor Judith DeSena, Ph.D., whose husband was COO of Outreach at the time, recommended Ms. Casiano for a research position there because of the research and analytical skills she gained in her master’s program. For the next two years, Ms. Casiano led Outreach’s participation in a national study funded by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and subcontracted by the National Development & Research Institutes, Inc. (NDRI) that examined adolescent treatment in residential communities. As part of the study, Ms. Casiano interviewed adolescents in Outreach’s residential facilities throughout their treatment and found that the longer adolescents remained in residential settings, the better their outcomes post-treatment. The face-to-face interaction with Outreach patients also fostered a personal connection to the organization.

“I thought this would be a little stop along the way, but I grew within the organization and began to take on new roles,” she said. “It is a wonderful organization and I felt immediately connected to its mission of helping individuals, families, and the community at large. Moving from the mission-oriented St. John’s to Outreach felt like finding another family for me.”

While involved in research at Outreach, Ms. Casiano also became involved in grant writing, and when her research study ended, a Development Specialist position became available. “They wanted someone to work on grant writing and special events, and I had zero knowledge of special events at the time,” she said. “However, because of the writing and research experience I gained at St. John’s, I had a lot of transferable skills related to grant writing, so they were willing to take a chance on me.”

After working at Outreach as Development Specialist for many years, Ms. Casiano was promoted to Director of Development and slowly expanded her role to include administrative supervision and human resources. Along with another colleague, she helped the organization develop systems and procedures for human resources to accommodate its personnel growth.

Ms. Casiano, who is originally from Hicksville, NY, came to St. John’s on a scholarship. Although she began as a Government and Politics major, she switched to Criminal Justice before finding an interest in Sociology. In fall 1990, she took Introduction to Sociology with Dr. Esposito and wrote a paper on the film Nuts (1987) that especially resonated with her, leading her to choose Sociology as her undergraduate major and then her master’s field of study.

As a master’s student, Ms. Casiano secured a graduate assistantship and worked under the supervision of Dr. DeSena and Professor Emeritus Theodore D. Kemper, Ph.D. She has fond memories of the peer relationships she formed within the Sociology department. “All of us had very similar values and cared about community, both our St. John’s community and the larger community around us,” she said.

Outside of her sociology courses, Ms. Casiano recalls a Philosophy course taught by Rev. Robert E. Lauder, Ph.D. “I was less than thrilled about having to take philosophy, but got so much out of that course that I take with me to this day. We read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and it left a lasting impression on me to think about what we can all do within our own situations.”

“St. John’s offers a well-rounded education that fosters global awareness and connection to humanity,” Ms. Casiano said. “The campus environment and quality of education gave me so many tools as I moved forward in my career. I gained an ability to communicate and analyze information, but most importantly I learned to put people first, and that all of our decisions are interconnected.”

Heather Gautney ‘97G

Heather Gautney ‘97G is Associate Professor of Sociology at Fordham University. She has also been involved in policymaking at the federal level as an American Sociological Association (ASA) fellow in Senator Bernie Sanders’s Washington, D.C. Senate office and later as a senior policy advisor to him in the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. She was a senior researcher for Sanders's campaign for President of the United States and currently is the Executive Director of Our Revolution, a non-profit organization that aims to continue Sanders’s movement and empower progressive leadership throughout the U.S.

“I consider myself a political sociologist,” said Dr. Gautney. “I wanted a front seat in the government to see how elites work in a governmental context. Now, as a professor, I am able to offer my students public policy perspectives from a position of experience.”

Dr. Gautney is the author of Crashing the Party: From the Bernie Sanders Campaign to a Progressive Movement (Verso, 2018). She has a book in contract with Oxford University Press entitled, The New Power Elite. Previously, she has published: Protest and Organization in the Alternative Globalization Era: NGOs, Anti-Authoritarian Movements, and Political Parties, Second Edition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Democracy, States, and the Struggle for Global Justice (Routledge, 2009); and Implicating Empire: Globalization and Resistance in the 21st Century World Order (Basic Books, 2002). In addition to articles in scholarly journals, she has contributed opinions to The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, and The Huffington Post. She teaches courses on social movements, politics, and inequality at Fordham.

Dr. Gautney, whose Ph.D. is from CUNY Graduate Center, had no idea she wanted to pursue a doctoral degree when she began her M.A. in Sociology at St. John’s. “I thought I wanted to be an anthropologist,” she said. “I was living in Washington and working for the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) doing work on Sub-Saharan Africa.” Nevertheless, a series of personal decisions led Dr. Gautney to move to New York and enrolled in Sociological Theory with Professor William DiFazio, Ph.D. “I was smitten with sociology from that point onward,” she said. “He was instrumental in attracting me to the discipline because of his research on poverty and class inequality, something I care a lot about.”

Dr. DiFazio mentored Dr. Gautney as she pursued further sociological study. His connections to co-author Stanley Aronowitz helped her find a mentor at CUNY, and his encouragement for her to attend ASA annual meetings helped her socialize herself professionally at an early stage in her career. Dr. DiFazio’s ethnographical approach to research was also formative for Dr. Gautney. “Dr. DiFazio worked in a soup kitchen for many years and taught me that you could understand people from within by spending long periods of time with them,” she said. “That became my model for what sociological research could be.”

“I wasn’t looking for a degree to have a job,” said Dr. Gautney. “I was looking for a calling, and luckily found it in Dr. DiFazio’s class and at St. John’s. Today, I’m involved in policy that affects people’s lives and am proud of that active role in effecting change.”

Paul-Brian McInerney ‘95C, ‘98G

Paul-Brian McInerney ‘95C, ‘98G is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois, Chicago. An economic sociologist, Dr. McInerney focuses on the social aspects of market action. The project for which he was awarded tenure examines the rise of moral markets, such as the environmental movement and “green” marketed products, to understand how social movements become markets, as well as the competitive aspects of these social and economic forms of exchange.

Currently, Dr. McInerney is working on two projects: one that examines the collaborative and competitive dynamics of craft brewing, and another that investigates the rise of school climate measures to understand the origin of these measures and their goals.

His interest in collaboration and competition among companies began while working as a graduate assistant for Professor Michael Indergaard, Ph.D., on research involving small internet companies. “That research got me interested in the spaces where companies both compete and collaborate with each other,” Dr. McInerney said.

Dr. McInerney, who is originally from Queens, NY, chose St. John’s as an undergraduate because of its proximity to New York City and its Vincentian Mission. Originally a business major, Dr. McInerney switched to Sociology after taking Introduction to Sociology. “Light bulbs went off for me in that class,” he said. “I started seeing connections between the things I was interested about in my economics courses and the things I cared about politically.”

He graduated magna cum laude with his undergraduate degree and continued on to an M.A. in Sociology at St. John’s. “I didn’t feel ready to go into a doctoral program right away,” he said. “I needed to build my c.v. and get a sense of what graduate school was going to be like.”

He found a mentor in Dr. DiFazio as well as Dr. Indergaard, both of whom he continued to contact for support while earning an M.Phil and Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University. “They prepared me for what I would encounter in a doctoral program,” said Dr. McInerney. “The small size of the M.A. program allows for intensive mentorship and teaching training from the faculty. The faculty took us seriously and treated us like colleagues, giving us the confidence we needed to go on and be successful in university positions.”