February 05, 2024

Community Development Studies in Sociology, and What Sociology Offers Students

CKing headshot 1 4.3 Calvin-odhiambo IMG_5518

By Colby King, Calvin Odhiambo, Associate Professor of Sociology, and Lizabeth Zack, Professor of Sociology and Department Chair, University of South Carolina Upstate

The recent decision by the Florida Board of Governors to exclude Introductory sociology from the list of courses that fulfill the social science general education requirements for Florida public college students has sparked discussions highlighting the vital role of sociology in academic curriculum. Stacy Torres wrote here about the life-changing role sociology course can play in students’ lives.

As contributors have demonstrated here on the Everyday Sociology Blog, our discipline supports major and non-major students in developing their critical thinking and information and media literacy skills, while encouraging perspective taking and helping students make the most of their opportunities. As Peter Kaufman outlined here, sociology equips students with valuable tools applicable across disciplines and in everyday life.

Another outstanding quality of many sociology courses is that they often offer informed community engagement and/or service-learning (CESL) opportunities. CESL activities are a high-impact teaching practice that supports student learning, while also facilitating student engagement with their community in ways that can have a positive impact, and help students find future job opportunities as they connect with organizations and employers.

At USC Upstate, the three of us have infused our sociology program with a variety of opportunities and experiences through which our students engage with our community, leveraging Spartanburg’s landscape. The Spartanburg region was recognized as the twelfth fastest growing metro area in the country by U.S. News and World Report. Amid this growth, large projects are remaking the city and region, including housing development, a new minor league baseball stadium, which is part of a $500 million development project that also includes new apartments, a hotel, and retail and office space, as well as a planetarium being added to the Spartanburg County Public Library’s downtown headquarters.

Of course, this change has been uneven and associated with shifting inequalities and new patterns of social life in a city that has recognized its own history of racial injustice, including enduring segregation and social inequality. These changes make Spartanburg an ideal backdrop for community engagement and sociological inquiry.

Through CESL activities in Dr. King’s urban sociology courses, his students have taken walking tours of Spartanburg’s Northside neighborhood led by the Northside Development Group as the neighborhood takes on substantial change and redevelopment and NDG works to prevent displacement. Last spring his students met with the founders of Oak and Ave Property Group, a new real estate company in Spartanburg with a non-profit operation (for which Dr. King serves on the board), focused on helping low-income households get into home ownership. They also met with Mayor Jerome Rice in City Council chambers and discussed positive and negative reactions to a development project that had been proposed just a few weeks earlier.

In another example from our program, Dr. Zack had students in her Political Sociology course participate in a Poll Worker Project, in which students received training and then worked at local polling places on election day.  Local officials celebrated the project, and students expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn more about how elections function and to get more engaged in the political process.

In addition, without distracting from the core concerns and analytical rigor of the discipline, our program has put special emphasis on providing students with the opportunities that support them as they make the transition from their undergraduate programs to their post-baccalaureate careers.

For instance, in his senior seminar, Dr. Odhiambo emphasizes career readiness and professional development, in addition to completion of a major research project. These components prepare students well for employment and graduate school. Further, our sociology faculty is particularly committed to mentoring student research, efforts which have led to peer reviewed journal articles co-authored with students, based on research conducted at our university.

Building on our commitment to community engagement and career readiness, we recently developed a new concentration in Community Development Studies within our sociology major. The effort was spearheaded by Dr. Zack. She, along with Dr. Odhiambo and Dr. King, developed this curricular offering to better serve student interests and community needs and involves us developing a new course specifically in Community Development Studies. Community Development Studies is an area of study that, for our program, is meant to empower students to understand and solve pressing social problems.

The Concentration in Community Development Studies (CDS) aims to cater to sociology majors at USC Upstate seeking careers in community development and social service. Many are drawn to sociology due to their desire to address issues like addiction, violence, poverty, child maltreatment, housing and food insecurity, and racial and gender discrimination. These students often end up working in community agencies and nonprofit organizations that address these problems. This new concentration will equip students with essential knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to, as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests, build stronger and more resilient communities.

The CDS Concentration offers students a focused path within our major, requiring completion of core Sociology courses along with specialized courses in Community Development, Urban Sociology, and Social Problems. Additionally, students select courses from thematic areas focusing on Institutions, Inequality, and Engagement, and participate in an Applied Community Experience. The concentration aligns with the USC Upstate’s mission and strategic plan to create innovative and career-relevant programs.

The need for professionals with skills in social and cultural competency, communication, collaboration, research, and knowledge about community growth is strong in South Carolina. As the region grows, the need for greater professional development among community development and social service professionals, and the desire for improved quality of life grows as well.

According to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in community and social service occupations is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Social and community service managers, in particular, are projected to experience a 12 percent growth in employment from 2021 to 2031. The CDS concentration prepares students for diverse career paths in community development, social services, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies, ensuring their readiness to meet the evolving needs of society.

We believe that a sociology degree with this CDS concentration offers a unique and powerful opportunity for students who are seeking a broad undergraduate degree with a focus in serving the community and addressing regional challenges related to growth.

We take pride in offering undergraduate programs that blend academic rigor with practical application. Our curriculum exposes students to diverse research methodologies, fostering the ability to apply theoretical frameworks in real-world contexts. This empowers students to integrate research seamlessly into their daily work, collaborate effectively in interdisciplinary settings, and to supply valid and reliable data for social service professionals and researchers as a part of their work.

We think our new CDS concentration illustrates how sociology offers empowering opportunities for students and highlights the importance of sociology as part of a college education. If you have appreciated your sociology courses and feel that it is important for all students to have an opportunity to study sociology, then, whether you are in Florida or elsewhere, let your university and local representatives know!


Hi, Emily here. I'm a student who just graduate from the University of Leeds and majored in sociology. I would like to ask if you have any phd program in sociology study?

I was very encouraged to find this site. The reason being that this is such an informative post. Thanks for sharing!

Social studies courses are actually quite important.

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