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Meet Sociology Prof Kelly Underman


September 26, 2017

Assistant Professor of Sociology Kelly Underman, PhD, talks growing up in the Midwest, moving to a new city and her hidden strength.

Drexel Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology Kelly Underman 

Hometown: Rittman, Ohio
Degree: PhD from University of Illinois at Chicago
Research Interests: Medical sociology, sociology of medical education, social construction of bodies and emotions

What did you do before coming to Drexel?
Prior to joining the faculty here at Drexel, I was a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Medical Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I conducted research on professional socialization and worked on curriculum development.

What is your favorite book? Movie?
This question is too hard! I’m constantly reading for work or for fun (which is one of the many things I love about my job). If I had to pick a favorite novel, it would probably be Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles.” I change favorite movies all the time, but my current pick is “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

What is your favorite food or restaurant?
I love salad so much that many of my friends tease me about it.

When is the last time you did something “for the first time”? What was it?
Moving to a new city is full of doing things for the first time. Last week I took SEPTA to work for the first time and got my Pennsylvania driver’s license for the first time. But going to Penn Treaty Park and getting my first glass of happy hour wine in Philadelphia with my partner last Saturday was the most fun.

What/who inspires you?
I am deeply inspired by communities that find ways to thrive and resist in conditions of extreme precarity. For example, I like to teach about ACT-UP in my medical sociology courses. These gay and lesbian activists forged networks to care for those dying of HIV/AIDS in the face of the Reagan administration’s denial.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
The ability to stop time. I’d get so much more done!

What was the most impactful moment of your own college career?
I had the privilege of being selected for an honors program at Case Western Reserve University called the College Scholars Program. It involves a small cohort of students who work closely with faculty to design their own curriculum that involves a service-learning component. The program profoundly shaped the kind of scholar I am today. I aspire to provide the kind of mentorship as an educator that I received as a College Scholar.

Which current issue do you think students should know more about and why?
As a medical sociologist, I am very concerned with how contemporary medical education prepares (or fails to prepare) physicians to work with marginalized communities. I think more students should be aware of the effects of race and class on health outcomes. This is important not just for health care providers, but for all of us as members of society. All people deserve compassionate care, not just the privileged.

What would students be surprised to learn about you?
I can deadlift 150 percent of my body weight.

If you could relive a moment in your life what would it be?
When I was a kid, my dad made us tour Revolutionary and Civil War battlefield sites on family vacations. I was a kid, so of course I found it incredibly boring to stand there staring at an empty field while he described how the armies lined up and so forth. Unfortunately, I lost my dad very early into my studies in graduate school. It was his intellectual curiosity that inspired me to believe that I — a first generation college student from the rural Midwest — could complete a PhD. I’d give anything to go back in time and relive those childhood vacations with him.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? What made you want to become a professor?
I wanted to be a writer. Pursuing a career in academia allows me to do creative work and write every day. Plus I get to teach, which I love.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far in your career?
I’m so pleased and thrilled to be joining the faculty of Drexel University.

What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
I hope to be a rigorous scholar, a challenging teacher and a generous mentor to the undergraduate community.