Sociology undergrad Sheila Xiao was a little apprehensive about leaving her Northern California family and friends for the sunny southern coast, but becoming an anteater turned out to be one of her best moves, she says. “Being in such a new environment, I allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone and really get involved with the campus,” she says. The winner of the 2012 Carole Creek Bailey School of Social Sciences Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Sociology, Xiao, a junior, has been heavily involved in research while at UCI. She’s currently examining life expectancy rates across different countries with Andrew Noymer, sociology assistant professor. She’s also working with Ann Hironaka, sociology associate professor, and Erin Evans, sociology graduate student, on a study about cross national environmental protests and social movements. Outside of the classroom, she’s involved with Na ‘Opio O Ka ‘Aina, the Hawai’i Club at UCI, as club secretary. Below, Xiao comments on her undergraduate experience, her interest in sociology and what she plans to do after graduation.

What made you decide to pursue a major in sociology?
I’ve seen prevalent inequalities in our society first hand, and was truly intrigued by the fact that there was a field that allowed us to examine these social problems.

What has your undergraduate experience at UCI been like?
It took me a little while to adjust to the university setting my freshman year of college. Coming from under-funded public schools in the urban San Francisco area and being from a Chinese-immigrant family, I felt that I was very disadvantaged academically, socially and economically. My grades during my first few quarters at UCI reflected, in part, these certain disadvantages. However, the experience helped me reflect and understand that I had to work extra hard, as do most of my peers, in order to succeed. My passion for sociology played a big part in getting me where I am today.

Who has played an important role in your life thus far?
Definitely my parents. They have successfully tackled adversities with poise and composure. They were able to raise my brother and I to be independent, strong-willed and responsible, all while working 12+ hour work days, and enduring the many social barriers most immigrants face.

What do you plan to do after finishing your degree?
I will be starting the application process this fall for a Ph.D. program in sociology for 2013. I am interested in studying how cultures and societies evolve throughout history through globalization.  After I finish my Ph.D. program, I hope to become a university professor.

-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications

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