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Spring 2014 Dr. Ruby Mendenhall Awarded Grant to Study Earned Income Tax Credit Professor Ruby Mendenhall has won a grant from the City of Chicago: Office of the Mayor and the Center for Economic Progress (CEP) to evaluate a pilot project that involves giving low- and moderateincome families advance payments of their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The City of Chicago and CEP invited Professor Mendenhall to submit a competitive proposal after she gave an invited talk about her EITC research at the University of Chicago’s Employment Instability policy forum. In December 2013, Professor Mendenhall was informed that her proposal was selected; she was awarded $145,922 to carry out the pilot evaluation. The City of Chicago and CEP were especially impressed by the rigorous methods and the complexity of the proposal. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable federal tax credit that provides low- and moderate-income working families with a credit based on their earned income. When the EITC is larger than the amount owed in taxes, families

In this Issue 1 dr. Mendenhalll awarded grant 2 Alumni spotlight 3 undergraduate SPOTLIGHT 4 stay in touch

receive a refund. The maximum refund for a married family with three children is $6,044. On average, EITC families receive $2,200. In 2011, the EITC lifted 6.1 million people, including 3.9 million children out of poverty. Families receive the EITC in a lump sum payment during tax time, and they often use some of their refund to catch up on bills. The idea of the Advance EITC pilot project is to see if families who receive half of their federal EITC refund during quarterly intervals in 2014 will be able to use the money to get ahead of bills and avoid late fees or accumulate assets by saving. Professor Mendenhall and her team will use mixed-methods (e.g., ethnographic observations, focus groups, in-depth interviews, and surveys) to evaluate how receiving advance cash payments affects the “treatment” group versus the “control” group. The study is expected to run from January 2014 until May 2015, when the final report is due. Liberal Arts and Sciences Interim Associate Dean for Social Sciences David Tewksbury highlights the research’s significance as, “The Chicago EITC project is the sort of research that can advance the state of knowledge and benefit the people of Illinois and the rest of the country. This is a perfect example of research that helps fulfill the promise of a land-grant university like ours.” Professor Mendenhall’s EITC project is significant for Sociology and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for several reasons.

Ruby Mendenhall, PhD

(1) It raises the visibility of the university in the Office of the Mayor and the city of Chicago more generally. (2) State and federal policy makers will be interested in the final report because it may shape federal tax policy and other efforts to support low- and moderate-income families. (3) It is an interdisciplinary model for working across campus on a project that has significant implications for social mobility processes of low- and moderateincome families. (4) The findings from the study will shed new light on poverty in Chicago and whether families can leverage the extra cash to get ahead of bills or to accumulate assets like savings. (5) The study will serve as a training ground for undergraduate and graduate students in general, and students of color, to develop expertise in grant writing, (article continued on page 3)

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Alumni Spotlight

Undergraduate Student Spotlight 2

Dr. Nancy Berns: Life After the Degree Dr. Nancy Berns attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she received her Ph.D. in Sociology in 1999. She is now a professor of sociology at Drake University where she has been teaching classes on grief, death, emotions, violence, crime, and justice since 2000. When asked what she enjoys most about what she does, Dr. Berns responded saying, “Sharing what I’ve learned through my research with public audiences, including students but also counselors, hospice workers, support groups and the general public.” Dr. Berns describes her research in the following way: “When someone dies, what are the challenges faced? Particularly when the person who died was intertwined so much in daily life, one’s world collapses. How do people learn to move forward in their lives after loss? With the knowledge gained from in-depth interviews, my research shows how emotions are complex and not just negative or positive. Topics include how people make sense of loss, and how these constructions impact one’s identity and emoSociology Alum, Dr. Nancy Berns, Ph.D. 1999

tions. Through their stories, we can better understand the many faces of grieving, the journey through life after loss, and the ability to carry both grief and joy.” She is the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us (2011, Temple University Press), which won the Charles Horton Cooley Award for best book of the year awarded by the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction; and Framing the Victim: Domestic Violence, Media and Social Problems (2004, Aldine de Gruyter). And with a passion for raising public awareness about grief and joy, Dr. Berns also writes a blog for Psychology Today and an occasional column for the Des Moines Register. Her work attracts national and international audiences through her TEDx talk (Beyond Closure: The Space Between Joy and Grief) and through interviews such as those with The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The Epoch Times, Huffington Post Live, U.S. News & World Report, and on radio shows including programs in Iowa, Wisconsin, New York, Philadelphia, and Canada. Dr. Berns is currently writing a book on how people live with grief and joy after loss. Dr. Berns is also very active in her community, volunteering for several organizations. Aside from volunteering for the hospice program, which includes helping with grief training for other volunteers and speaking to community groups, including counselors, pastors, bereavement support groups, and hospice staff. She is also the coach for her daughters’ community basketball teams and she helps out in various ways in her church. Dr. Berns credits supportive faculty at Illinois who guided her in the processes of publishing and who encouraged her to follow the research that she wanted to do. She believes that faculty also fostered her desire to seek knowledge from multiple disciplines.

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Department Honors Inductees into Alpha Kappa Delta International Honors Society for Sociology On December 7, Illinois Sociology Faculty and families of eleven Sociology juniors and seniors gathered to acknowledge the achievements of the newest inductees into the Gamma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Delta International Honors Society for Sociology (AKD). Sociology Interim Head Antoinette Burton chaired the event in which Sociology alumnus Jess Hoyt (2010) AKD Inductees with Sociology Interim Head Antoinette Burton and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Nicole Holtzclaw-Stone

gave the keynote address entitled “Breaking the Bubble” focusing on the links between Sociology and social justice in communities. Alpha Kappa Delta (AKD) is the International Honors Society for Sociology. “AKD seeks to acknowledge and promote excellence in scholarship in the study of sociology, the research of social problems, and such other social and intellectual activities as will lead to improvement in the human condition.” ( On the Illinois campus, AKD has organized several events this past year including inviting Sociology faculty to come share their research with an audience of Sociology undergraduates. They also organized the first annual “Spring Fling: Sociology Course Fair” in April which highlighted to students across campus courses and research opportunities available in the Sociology Department.

AKD Inductees Jacob Alan Astin Whitney Jo Baldridge Caroline Kelsey Goodrich Shixin Lan Sarah M. Olles Morgan Marie Perconti Jeffrey John Sheets Brett Ryan Tucker Rebecca Nicole Valenta Sarah Ann Woulfe Ashley Zamora

(Mendenhall, continued from page 1) evaluative research, tax policy, peer-reviewed publishing, etc. According to LAS Interim Associate Dean Tewksbury, “This project brings together top researchers from across the campus. The interdisciplinary character of this project draws on the expertise of an excellent group of Illinois researchers and increases its overall impact on policy and on society.” Professor Mendenhall’s interdisciplinary research team has eight core faculty members, including Sociology’s own Professor Ilana Redstone Akresh. Loren Henderson, a Sociology graduate student, also helped to write the proposal. Other faculty members include: Christopher Larrison, Associate Professor of Social Work; Lizanne DeStefano, Professor of Educational Psychology, Director, I-STEM Educational Initiative, Coordinator, P-20 Council; Karen Kramer, Assistant Professor of Human and Community Development, Family Studies; Andrew Greenlee, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning; Flavia Andrade, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and Community Health; and Kevin Franklin, Executive Director of the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (I-CHASS), Senior Research Scientist for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). The other graduate student who participated in writing the grant was Renee Lemons in Educational Psychology.

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Stay In Touch 4 Do you have internship opportunities for Sociology undergraduates? Sociology students possess several skills your organization may be looking for in an intern: written and oral communication skills, computer/ technical skills, leadership, teamwork, global competency, diversity awareness, and research/statistics. If your business or organization has potential internship opportunities, please let us know. If you cannot attend our Internship Fair, we can promote your opportunity on our website. Please email: with your opportunity or any questions you may have about the program.

Support Illinois Sociology! The Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois welcomes donations and contributions to the Sociology Department Annual Fund. These funds are earmarked for helping the department carry out its mission of enhancing undergraduate and graduate education; granting awards and scholarships to students; facilitating the recruitment of outstanding scholars; putting on conferences of note; and extending the breadth and reach of our outreach programs and projects. If you or someone you know are interested in contributing to our broad range of activities, please contact us at (217) 333-1950 or at Or, donate online at: where you can also download a printable PDF form to mail in your donation if you prefer.

We want to hear from you! Mail us your contact information, or enter it online at Please mail to: Department of Sociology, 3120 Lincoln Hall MC454, 702 S. Wright St, MC 454, Urbana, Il 61801 Name_______________________________________ Year graduated________ Degree granted ___________ Email address ______________________________ Phone number___________________________________ Physical address_____________________________________________________________________________ Current position______________________________ Organization/institution__________________________ Milestones/accomplishments__________________________________________________________________ Comments________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________


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Spring 2014  

Spring 2014

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