Assistant Professor of Sociology Alanna Gillis and Alleigh Szabo ’24 successfully navigated their first years at St. Lawrence—an unprecedented 2020-21 academic year—by collaborating on a research project and then earning the opportunity to co-present their initial findings at the largest conference in the field of sociology.
“There was a lot of debate about how we should prepare for the fall 2020 semester [at St. Lawrence],” said Gillis. “Should we be doing fully online classes? Should we be trying to do a hyflex model where some students are in-person and some are remote? I wanted to collect data to analyze if the new pandemic teaching mechanisms were accessible and equitable for all of our students.”
Drawing from several of the sociology classes she instructed, Gillis hoped to determine which teaching model would support students equitably. Szabo, who was enrolled as a first-year student in two of the classes at the focus of the research, Introduction to Sociology and Introduction to Inequality, was eager to get involved.
“When I came to St. Lawrence, I was really looking forward to participating in research,” Szabo said. “I took two classes with Alanna so I had a class with her every day. Eventually, I said, ‘I'm really interested in the research you’re doing here on campus. I know I am a first-year [student], but I'd love to get involved in any research you have.’”
“At first, I wasn't planning to have a research assistant on this project but Alleigh was enthusiastic,” said Gillis. “Her being able to provide her insights as a student in the classes, one that was hyflex and one that was fully online, was invaluable.”
The pair examined students’ perceptions and barriers to learning in the hyflex and online classes by analyzing students’ written reflections and evaluating if they had met their participation goals.
“Alleigh ended up analyzing a whole subset of the data by herself,” said Gillis. “She took the lead on analyzing student comments and came up with themes to code for while I did a lot of the quantitative and data work for privacy purposes. She worked with me over the winter and spring breaks so I had feedback that I could implement to make changes [in my classes] for the following semesters.”
“Alanna and I worked really well together,” said Szabo. “I was able to see her not just as my professor, but also as my partner and that was incredible.”
“Alanna and I worked really well together. I was able to see her not just as my professor, but also as my partner and that was incredible.” -Alleigh Szabo '24
After compiling their data and analyses, their research indicated that hyflex courses cannot be taught without any barriers at all.
“There were a lot of logistical barriers to communicating,” said Gillis. “Students in the hyflex classroom were more disappointed with pandemic teaching than those remotely because they just so badly wanted that full in-person experience and were reminded that they weren’t able to have it.”
For Gillis and Szabo, sharing their initial findings for the first time at the virtual Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association was a unique opportunity.
“It is the biggest and most important sociology conference of the year,” said Gillis. “It's an honor just to have a paper selected for a presentation session so having a conference session presentation is a big deal. It’s unusual to see an undergraduate student present at this national conference and [Alleigh] was presenting to some of the biggest names in sociology.”
“I felt very welcomed,” said Szabo. “It was great hearing people talk about their research and what they're so passionate about. I loved hearing the discussions and the really interesting feedback presenters were given.”
While their conference presentation included preliminary findings, Gillis and Szabo are currently writing a paper that details their research. Both say that they are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate during their first year at St. Lawrence.
“It's incredible that I could get that experience as a first-year and I’m excited to make my mark,” said Szabo. “I really find value in the experiences I had and knowing that I played some part in the research is very fulfilling to me. I'm looking forward to doing more research on campus in the future.”
“Something about St. Lawrence tells students that they are important and that they have valuable contributions to make,” said Gillis. “I thought it would take several years to start cultivating and developing relationships with students before I would be able to find research assistants who were a good fit for my projects and who would get something out of the projects. To have already connected with Alleigh in my first year teaching at St. Lawrence and her first year as a student has just been a really special experience.”
“Something about St. Lawrence tells students that they are important and that they have valuable contributions to make." - Alanna Gillis
Szabo is from Rhinebeck, New York, and is a member of St. Lawrence’s Class of 2024. At St. Lawrence, she is a coxswain for the men’s crew team and is a member of the Public Leadership Education Network, a national organization whose mission is to increase the number of women in top leadership positions influencing all aspects of the public policy process.
Gillis is the author of several scholarly articles which examine race, class, and gender inequality in higher education and inclusive pedagogy. At St. Lawrence, she teaches Introduction to Sociology, Introduction to Sociology: Inequality, Sociology of Education, and a community-based learning course of Sociology of Family–all of which supported her research on hyflex courses. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as a B.A. in Sociology from Furman University.