Next Stop Scotland for Aspiring Sociologist

St. Andrew Society Offers Scholarship for Study at the University of Aberdeen

Monday, May 3, 2010

The coal regions of Appalachia and the Himalayan foothills are hardly ordinary places for a small child to travel, but for sophomore Katherine Oaks, these trips alongside her folklorist mother inspired a life-long interest in sociology.

“My desire for social justice grew as I grew,” she wrote in a poignant personal essay as part of the application process for a full-year St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia scholarship to study in Scotland. Oaks was selected for one of five annual scholarships by the Society, which was established in 1747 to serve Scottish immigrants and awards scholarships to promote understanding between the United States and Scotland.

According to Oaks, it’s this desire for social justice that brought her twice to Guatemala in her teen years with a medical mission run by her uncle, to Appalachia again this past spring and will bring her to Tijuana, Mexico in May for an SJU-run service immersion experience. Then she heads to the University of Aberdeen in the fall, a university she chose because of its offerings in sociology and anthropology.

“The trips I took as a child and as a young adult made me question the reasons for poverty in such culturally rich communities,” said Oaks. “I’m also interested in all the ways that poverty looks different, in rural and urban settings.”

Her year abroad will also be a sort of pilgrimage for Oaks, the descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants. Among her ancestors was Archibald Stark who took up arms against King Charles I and a couple who made a daring escape from Scotland after an unsuccessful insurrection against Cromwell.

In her essay, Oaks addresses the significance of these stories passed down through her family. “They inspire my curiosity about how social change happens.”

Oaks credits Peter Norberg, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of the fellowships office, for his nomination and ensuing guidance through the application process.

In Scotland, Oaks plans to expand her understanding of ethnography and bring an international perspective to her research interests in poverty. She also plans to engage in service, which she describes as equally important to in-classroom learning.

“Sociology is a portal for me to embrace my passions,” said Oaks.

And when she’s not engaging in social complexities and cross-cultural dialogue, Oaks hopes to find the time to indulge another of her passions — music. The classically trained violinist looks forward to exploring Celtic and Caledonian music during her stay in Scotland.


Media Contact

Kelly Welsh, Senior Associate Director, University Communications, 610-660-1385,


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