San Jacinto College sociology professor Tonja Conerly encourages her classes to bring their own knowledge and experiences into the classroom to learn from and appreciate each other’s differences. Photo credit: Andrea Vasquez, San Jacinto College marketing department.
San Jacinto College faculty spotlight on Tonja Conerly: Celebrating our differences through sociology
Andrea Vasquez-- February 1, 2013
HOUSTON – Dealing with people and students on an everyday basis is the foundation for most of San Jacinto College sociology professor Tonja Conerly’s teaching platform. Showing students how to appreciate broad aspects like different cultures, religions, and customs, goes hand-in-hand with accepting someone for who they are as an individual.
Q: What made you want to pursue teaching sociology?
A: My first job after high school was in the training department for Stage Stores (parent company for Palais Royal, Bealls, and Stage department stores) as an administrative assistant while I worked my way through college. In this position, I developed my skills for teaching, listening, and learning. I started as an adjunct at Houston Community College then started teaching full time at San Jacinto College in the Fall of 2010. I knew it was my passion when I would work 50-60 hours per week at my full-time job, and would become so energized when I entered the classroom. Teaching was never considered a job to me then or now; it truly brings me joy.
Q: Did you have any positions, prior to teaching, where you applied sociology concepts on a daily basis?
A: Sociology is study of people and human resources is definitely all about people. After I obtained my bachelors and masters degrees, I continued working for Stage Stores, where I covered the entire human resources spectrum in managerial positions - from recruiting, hiring, benefits/compensation, training and development, and associate relations. After 15 years at Stage Stores, I became a human resources executive with Target where again, I was responsible for the entire spectrum of HR.
Q: What are some of the biggest differences you notice about your students from when they first begin your classes and when the semester is finished?
A: My classes are very interactive, so usually I’ll notice that some of my introverted students are more expressive. Sometimes students who might not have greeted each other as human beings are having conversations with each other that don’t pertain to the class, but to other outside interests. I always encourage my students to bring their own knowledge and experiences to the classroom because we are here to learn from each other. We have to understand that what we see isn’t always what we get. We have to take into consideration people's culture with language, religion, values, morals, beliefs, etc.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging things about teaching a subject like sociology, since it revolves around people and how we interact with each other?
A: The best part about teaching in general is knowing that the knowledge our students are obtaining will be used to make them productive members of society. The information that is obtained in my classes relate to school, family, work, friends, social media, government, religion, and so much more. All of this information can and will be applied to their future. Some challenges as a professor can be when some students are so accustomed to their environment and/or surroundings, that at first it can be difficult for them to appreciate and respect others’ differences. I often ask my classes how would they like it if we lived in a world where everyone wore the same clothes, spoke the same language, and ate the same food. I know I would hate that because it would mean I couldn’t eat Chinese food from places like Cafe Chino.
Q: Since February is African American History Month, and you are the faculty advisor for the African American Association (A3) on the South Campus, what positive influences do you see the A3 members putting forth in the San Jacinto College community as well as their own communities at home?
A: The African American Association on the South Campus was formed in 2011 by two of my former students. All of the members and I are passionate about this organization. It’s not uncommon for many students to think that the group is mainly focused on African Americans, but we take the approach of being African Americans focused on society - locally and globally. We have monthly meetings with different topics and encourage students of all cultures and backgrounds to attend. In keeping with the College’s values, student success always comes first. Before you can help others, you have to help yourself, so I encourage our students to become study partners and to take advantage of all of resources on campus. I also provide them with resources for scholarship and grant applications, as well as job leads I come across. For A3’s local project this year, we are working with the Houston Food Bank for the national “Ending Childhood Hunger by 2015” project. Our global outreach project this year has focused on worldwide literacy, so we’ve been raising funds and collecting books for the Friends of Yimbo organization in Keyna. The Yimbo village has just created a school and is working on building their library. Our South Campus library is also partnering with us in this project. A3 has also invited students from all three campuses to a showing of “The Mountaintop” at Houston’s Alley Theatre, a re-imagination about events the night before the assignation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
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