Faculty profile: Goucher alum Dena Smith ‘03, Sociology

Rachel Brustein
Co-Features Editor

Dena Smith ’03, assistant professor of Sociology, is in her third year of teaching at

Dena Smith ‘03 returned to Goucher to teach in the Sociology department. (Photo: Courtesy of Dena Smith)

Dena Smith ‘03 returned to Goucher to teach in the Sociology department. (Photo: Courtesy of Dena Smith)

Goucher. Over the past few years, Smith has published an article for the American Sociological Association Journal, two book chapters, and is currently working on a book related to her research on the sociology of health and illness and mental health.
Medical sociology, which looks at health, illness, and medicalization from a sociological perspective, is important in the field of medicine, but not something all doctors are trained in.
“Medical sociologists contribute so much to how we think about health and illness,” Smith explains.
A lot of other fields, like medicine, law, and politics look at sociological research to better understand whom they serve within their field.
Not surprisingly, Smith says that her “favorite class to teach is Sociology of Health and Illness, and a close second is Sociology of Mental Health.” Within the sociology major, students can choose one of two concentrations – medical sociology or social justice.
“As a department, our biggest goal is to support the concentrations, which allow students to delve deep into one area,” Smith explains.
When asked to describe the academic and work environments, Smith says that Goucher is “a wonderful place to work” because the students are engaged and the professors really get to know them. She also likes being part of a department where “we [the faculty] all really like each other.”
When Smith was a student at Goucher, she had Jamie Mullaney ‘95 and Janet Shope as professors. Mullaney received her PhD from Rutgers University and influenced Smith to also go to Rutgers for graduate school.
Sociology major Stephanie Stern ’15, currently in Smith’s Gender, Work, and Family class, says that Smith encourages students to “not read and forget,” but to “take time to think about what we’re learning.” Stern also mentions that Smith set up a Skype session with the author of a book the students in her class read during one of their class periods. The students were able to have a discussion with the author and ask her specific questions about her research.
Erin Manuel ’16, who is in Smith’s Introduction to Sociology class, says that she “came into sociology not really knowing what it was about and Dena made it very fascinating and now it’s going to be my major.” Manuel remarked that Smith makes the topics she teaches relatable to students and “fun to learn about.” She also described Smith as “super approachable” and easy to talk to.
Moriah Patashnik ’14, who is also a sociology major, took Methods of Social Research and the Domestic Violence seminar with Smith. Patashnik says that Dena put her own personal spin on the classes, which is what made them interesting. Patashnik describes Dena as “knowledgeable and passionate about what she’s teaching,” and “dedicated to her students.” “She has left an indelible mark on almost every student student that she’s taught [and I] will remember her for the rest of my life,” Patashnik added.
Sociology is a discipline that looks at a broad range of issues that are pertinent today, and Dena Smith does an excellent job of connecting the discipline to students’ lives in her classes.



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