PhD in Sociology

Maria Valdovinos

Maria Valdovinos

Describe your current area of research and/or your academic interests.

My dissertation comprises a series of essays on criminal legal reform and prisoner reentry in the era of decarceration and movement toward abolition. I am currently collecting data in support of an essay addressing the question of how existing and envisioned social systems and social policies might organize the provision of care for the formerly incarcerated under a larger paradigmatic shift from punishment-oriented responses to care-oriented ones. Completing my dissertation project is the first milestone in a career track in which my objective is to conduct research that can inform evidence-based policy on law related issues such as prisoner reentry, care-oriented alternatives to criminal legal contact, and safety, health, and wellness in criminal justice.

Why did you choose George Mason to pursue your studies?

Everyone comes to their graduate studies with a different goal in mind. When I first began to consider obtaining a Ph.D. I knew what I wanted to study but not how to turn my research interests into meaningful work that could make a real difference in the world. A mentor encouraged me to look at Mason and so in 2014, I submitted my application to the public sociology program. I was not looking to re-locate at the time and wanted to stay close to the Washington DC metro area with all of its opportunities. It was the only program I applied to. Mason is among the best institutions for individuals looking to embark in a career in evidence-based, policy relevant work. I credit the mentoring I have received from my Public Sociology program at George Mason University with helping me to not only develop a robust sociological imagination but also introducing me to the philosophy and tools of a publicly engaged approach to scholarship.

Are there faculty or staff members who have made a difference thus far during your Mason career? Please give an example of this impact if possible.

My dissertation committee includes Dr. John Dale (dissertation chair), Dr. Amy Best, and Dr. James Witte from the Sociology Department. Not only have they been extraordinary in terms of teaching me the tools of the public sociology trade but they have also been incredibly supportive of me in my external collaborations working in applied research focused on practical problems in the administration of justice. As a result of these experiences outside of the classroom, I have gained experience and skills in conducting scale development, process evaluation, and quasi-experimental outcome evaluation resulting in peer-reviewed publications on the development of a work-family conflict scale for spouses or partners of police officers, the implementation of gender responsive programming to improve health, safety, and wellness in Los Angeles County Jails, and the reduction of recidivism through restorative justice informed reentry programming. As the sociology department has continued to grow, Dr. Dale, Dr. Best, and Dr. Witte have built opportunities into the program for students to gain experience outside of the classroom and to develop applied and practical skills, such as proposal development and grant seeking, through research hubs in the Center for Social Science Research, and the Institute for Immigration Research.

How do you hope to use your degree and studies in the future?

As a student in a public sociology doctoral program at Mason, the nature of the public and our responsibility as social scientists to both the discipline and civil society is something I have thought long and hard about over the last couple of years. The training I have received at Mason has provided me with a crucial skillset that allows me to engage with social problems in ways that can yield broader and more immediately impactful practical solutions to those problems. I am often surprised to find, however, that much of the general public (and many times politicians and policymakers also) struggle to see how social scientists can provide solutions to the problems that afflict them or their immediate communities. In large part, this points to a communication divide between scientists and these various publics. I hope to put my degree to use by ensuring that can I contribute to bridging that communication divide in my own work and by encouraging my scientist colleagues to take that extra step also.

How will the Dean’s Challenge scholarship support your studies?

The Dean's scholarship will be a tremendous source of support for my educational expenses such as tuition and dissertation related expenses not covered by research grants.