Four students found their voice at the Midwest Sociological Society Annual Meeting

By Robert Boos
Posted June 17, 2016

Criminal justice masters students take a road trip to the Midwest Sociological Society Annual Meeting

Four students in the Master of Science in Criminal Justice Studies program at Metropolitan State University attended Midwest Sociological Society Annual Meeting in Chicago last spring.

Classmates since August 2014 when the cohort began the program, these four students, Brielle Bernardy, Les Butler, Ellen Sackrison and Lindsay Cates, attended the conference after applying to present their academic work at the conference and teaching events.

Brielle Bernardy, front; Ellen Sackrison, back, from left, Lindsay Cates, and Les Butler.

Brielle Bernardy, front; Ellen Sackrison, back, from left, Lindsay Cates, and Les Butler.

The Midwest Sociological Society was founded in 1936 as a professional organization of academic and applied sociologists, and as students of the discipline. Nearly 1,300 scholars, students and practicing sociologists in universities, government and business belong to the organization, attracts its member from nine states – Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota. More than one-third of the members are from other parts of the nation and the world.

The organization’s annual conference includes professional development opportunities for career sociologists. Workshops offer attendees numerous opportunities to participate and build their teaching and research skills. Talks by keynote speakers Douglas Massey and Lori Peek, who spoke on the intersection of ethnicity, immigration, identity, segregation and economic inequality, served to highlight the value of understanding complexity. (View the conference program) Massey is professor of sociology at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Peek is associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis (CDRA) at Colorado State University. The organization is planning a Minneapolis conference in March 2018.

Bernardy presided a roundtable event and also presented a paper she wrote on current sex offender release options and need for change. Butler presented her thesis paper,“Maintaining Full Circles: Understanding and Supporting Volunteerism as a Crucial Element of Restorative Justice Process.” Sackrison presented her thesis on promoting “Positive Youth Development: Track and Field Coaches Perceptions” and another research paper she wrote titled “A Look into Gender-Based Programming in the United States Judicial System,” a topic she is passionate about.

Bernardy, Butler and Cates also attended the conference’s teaching event. Some students did not write a thesis paper for their degree program and instead focused on teaching preparation and for a future career as instructors.

“All of us are grateful for the experience that we were able to share on this adventure and the bonding that occurred,” Bernardy later wrote of her experience at the conference, during which she presided over a roundtable discussion.

“This was an amazing experience for me. I was a bit terrified going into the annual meeting, as I had never spoke at a professional conference before. It was even more nerve-wracking because it was something that I wrote. However, with lots of encouragement and support from my fellow classmates, I survived and did extremely well. One thing I learned most of all from this experience is others are just as nervous as you are to present and we all are there for one common purpose, to learn from each other… This bit of wisdom that I gained from this experience will definitely be beneficial as I go on to teach starting this fall.”

At the start of her second year in the Criminal Justice Studies program, Butler was even more skeptical of her ability to contribute.

“At the time I honestly did not fully consider going as I thought I did not have much to offer, or that the topics would be of interest to me, and lastly, it was cost prohibitive,” Butler wrote. “Once second semester began, the conference was again brought up and at that time the four of us began discussing how the potential merits of the conference could be a beneficial experience, both academically and professionally.”

But with this year’s conference addressing “Inequality, Injustice and Intersectionality” and blending sociological disciplines, the experience was timely with the very topics the Criminal Justice Studies cohort is currently studying.

“Much of our program focus has been on the disparities and injustices within our criminal justice system,” Butler said.

About 300 sessions were offered over the course of the conference, nearly overwhelming the students as they tried to decide which sessions to attend. Being a close cohort, it was important to them that they were able to support and attend each other’s presentations, Butler said. “We have been a part of the creation and development of each other’s visions for our respective thesis projects over the past two years.”


When Ellen Sackrison was considering her thesis, she met with her professor to talk about possible topics. As track and field coach for six years, she was elated to be able to meld her two passions: track and field, and improving the lives of youth through organized sports.

Attending the Chicago conference, Sackrison was nervous to deliver her a presentation “A Look into Gender-Based Programming in the United States Judicial System.” Her coaching experience taught her to think fast on her feet, to solve problems efficiently and to effectively deliver and present information, but she also had the support of her colleagues.

“They secretly recorded my presentations (seriously I had no idea), which then I could later send to my family. They listened to my two speeches on the way to Chicago and gave me necessary advice on what to do when it came to actual presentation time.”

Sackrison later delivered her thesis on “Positive Youth Development: Track and Field Coaches Perceptions”and was far less nervous.

 “I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and speak about two projects I had been working on here at Metro; one an independent study on the need for specialized treatment programs for teenage girls in Minnesota, the other my master’s thesis, focusing on how track and field coaches promote youth development in at-risk youth,” Sackrison wrote.

Lindsay Cates attended the conference to focus on teaching preparation and for a future career as an instructor.

“As a result of the conference, I am more confident and competent in my ability to teach and lead those within the field of criminal justice,” Cates wrote. “Not only in this educational experience was there value, but there was true innovative conversation and idea generation throughout each session and in the air of the conference… Perhaps the greatest takeaway I received from this opportunity was the gift of seeing passion and fervor in the sociological community for commitment to bettering the existence of people in their worlds.

“It was an exceptional pleasure to share with the conference the passion and intensity for such change Metropolitan State University encompasses, and as I continue my education and representation as an alumni, I can proudly do so with further understanding, hope, and knowledge.”

The four-day conference at downtown Chicago hotel could have been a costly burden to working students who also have families, but Butler credits Bernardy’s research and resourcefulness in helping the group get to the conference. A proposal presented to Metropolitan State’s Student Activity Fee Advisory Committee helped secure funding to offset some of the costs. “It is with great appreciation that we thank Metropolitan State University for allowing me this opportunity for growth. It is truly exceptional to have such a supportive school,” Bernardy wrote.”

The four students agree that the experience solidified their bond as well as upheld their confidence in Metropolitan State’s Criminal Justice masters program and dedication to their future careers.

 My advice to anyone thinking about applying to the Criminal Justice Masters program here at Metro is, go for it. The sky’s the limit and you can truly make it your own. If you’re a go-getter, this program is exactly what you need!” Sackrison wrote.