Monday, December 11, 2023

Jessica Douglass-Eurich’s son was the first person to inspire her to return to college for her bachelor’s degree. It was her time as a Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) scholar at the University of Iowa that led her to pursue a doctoral degree at the Big Ten school.

Douglass-Eurich had attended two semesters of college after graduating high school but left when she became exhausted from juggling classes, work, and her duties as a single mother. She spent the next twenty-five years in the workforce but found that she reached a point where she would need more education to move forward with her career. A conversation with her younger son inspired her to return to the classroom.

Jessica Douglass-Eurich
Jessica Douglass-Eurich, a 2022 Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) scholar and current doctoral student in Iowa's Department of Sociology and Criminology (photos by Cale Stelken).

“My son said ‘You’ve wanted to go back to school your whole life. Why don’t you just do it now?’” Douglass-Eurich recalls. “I’ve always wanted to go back. I’ve always been interested in getting my degree. Doing what I’ve wanted to do and pushing myself intellectually.” 

In the fall 2017, Douglass-Eurich enrolled at a community college to see if she would be successful. It had been over two decades since she had been in a classroom and college had changed. For Douglass-Eurich the biggest difference was the perspective shift of returning to college after working.

“It’s less about making the right career decisions. It’s more about what do I want to do. How do I want to provide for myself monetarily and provide for myself substantively?” she says. 

First-year doctoral candidate Jessica Douglass-Eurich.

After three years, she earned her associate's degree before transferring to California State University, Fullerton, where she changed her major from mathematics to her true passion – sociology. During her first year, a professor and mentor introduced her to the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program which would prepare her for graduate school. Douglass-Eurich had not previously pictured herself attending graduate school but found interest in the opportunity after learning more about the program and graduate school.

“Graduate school, to me, was the place to learn the ultimate amount of stuff. I didn’t realize that the purpose of graduate school was to prepare you to transition from being a person who learns to a person who can generate knowledge in and of themselves,” Douglass-Eurich reflects.

As part of the McNair Scholars Program, Douglass-Eurich was required and encouraged to apply to research programs that she felt would be a good match for her as a graduate student. She knew she wanted to move back to the Midwest to be closer to her family after spending twenty years in California and applied to the UI’s SROP program to fulfill that goal.

Jessica Douglass-Eurich presenting at SURC 2022.
Douglass-Eurich presenting her research at the 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Conference (SURC). She describes the event as an "epiphany" moment that demonstrated the applicable side of her research.

During her SROP, Douglass-Eurich conducted research alongside Associate Professor Ion Vasi in the Department of Sociology and Criminology. She credits her experience with Vasi for providing her with an epiphany moment that changed her research focus and the subject of her undergraduate thesis. 

“I was fortunate enough, through my work with Dr. Vasi, to discover what I wanted to do and continue to develop during graduate school,” Douglass-Eurich recalls. “SROP gave me insight into what programs would be a match and which wouldn’t when I was applying to graduate school.”

Inspired to continue the work she completed alongside Vasi during SROP, Douglass-Eurich applied to Iowa. Now a first-year doctoral student in sociology, Douglass-Eurich’s research surrounds DEI programs in the workplace, people's experiences with DEI programs, and the relationship of these programs with social justice. In the future, she hopes that her work will lend itself to creating more equitable practices in the workplace.

As a graduate student, Douglass-Eurich spends a large portion of her time teaching sociology courses to undergraduate students. Her experience as a first-generation student inspires her to focus on mentorship and support for her students, knowing that all it takes is one person to help you find your path.