Carol J. Auster

Carol J. Auster, professor of sociology, received the 2011 Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. Her research interest in individuals who make nontraditional choices for their gender has led her to study female engineers and women ice hockey players.

Carol J. Auster

You’ve been at F&M since 1981?

This was my first job, and I stayed. F&M seemed to provide the perfect balance of teaching and research for me. I knew F&M would be interested in excellence in teaching, but I was also impressed with the support for faculty research.

Both your parents were college professors.Were you destined to teach?

My mother is a retired economics professor who was a real pioneer. My father is a retired sociology professor who was working on a research project on male nurses when I was a teenager. At that time, he was interested in the nontraditional occupational choice that these men were making. I remember helping him with the project and finding it interesting. I don’t think I was destined to study sociology — because I don’t believe it was in my genes. As a good sociologist, I would say it was socialization!

What projects have you been working on with students?

Last year I became interested in the ways I could use the Internet for content analysis. This interest led to three projects with students. The first was a study of the gender marketing of Disney toys. The second study involved looking at the marketing of Disney theme parks with regard to gender and race. The third project, which is not yet finished, is a study of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards.

What else have you been researching?

I’m doing a project on pet-cemetery memorial plaques. The Lancaster Pet Cemetery is located a few minutes from my house. I took images of all the visible plaques — more than 2,000. I am looking at how pets’ names have changed over time from gender-neutral names to gendered human names. I am also interested in ways in which gender changes in society have had an impact on how owners’ names are listed on the plaques.

Have students changed since you first started teaching?

Students are more comfortable with faculty and certainly more interactive in class. What excites me about teaching is not only what I teach others, but also what I learn from students as they discuss their ideas and perspectives.

What did winning the Lindback Award mean to you?

I felt so honored to have been chosen by a committee of my peers to join others who have a long legacy of testament to great teaching. But it is the students who help make classes so great. It’s hard to be a great teacher without great students.

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