Kathryn “Katie” Daniels was a teen when she attended the celebration of the opening of UC Merced. As a child growing up in Merced, Daniels had heard her parents stress the importance of education.
“My mom always talked about the University of California coming to Merced and how that was going to help us,” she said.
Daniels is the first member of her family to have earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Soon, she’ll add her doctorate in Sociology.
This first-generation college student will graduate in May with her Ph.D. from UC Merced. In the fall, she’ll take a faculty position in the sociology department at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona.
Daniels also is the second UC Merced student to receive the Central Valley Graduate Fellowship, which supports graduate students with local roots and allows them to focus on research important to the Central Valley.
Her research mainly looks at racism and its relationship to health — such as how the stress of racism affects maternal outcomes among women of color. Her dissertation consists of quantitative studies that delve into those relationships, such as the correlation between police violence and communitywide pregnancy health in black women. While the data she uses isn’t specifically focused on the Central Valley, the issue of health disparities is an important one for the area.
Daniels remembers seeing inequality and racism as she grew up. Her research interest formed after she attended a health-sociology seminar at UC Davis, where she earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in English and sociology.
There, she learned about racism as a health stressor for women of color — and wondered why more people weren’t addressing this important issue. Then, while she was in the work force before enrolling in graduate studies, Daniels saw the experiences of a black co-worker who suffered through a traumatic pregnancy and turned to her hometown university to pursue graduate work in that area.
Katie is exceptionally skilled at quantitative methods. Her research is excellent, and she is really doing current, cutting-edge work that unites several threads of sociology theory including critical race theory, medical sociology and critical criminology.
Daniels found UC Merced to be a welcoming place that understands the issues of first-generation and working-class students.
“As a first-generation student, sometimes you don’t even know what questions to ask,” she said. “I had so much support from faculty and my advisers.”
Associate Vice Provost for the Faculty and sociology Professor Zulema Valdez, Ph.D., is Daniels’ adviser and co-chairs her dissertation committee with Professor Whitney Laster Pirtle, Ph.D.
“Katie is exceptionally skilled at quantitative methods,” Valdez said. “Her research is excellent, and she is really doing current, cutting-edge work that unites several threads of sociology theory including critical race theory, medical sociology and critical criminology. She is determined and persistent — characteristics that are essential to making it through graduate school — along with a passion and curiosity for research.”
In addition to her research, Daniels has excelled in the classroom as a teaching assistant and instructor.
“UC Merced has given me a lot of opportunities to teach,” she said. “My commitment to teaching is a major reason I got the job at Pomona.”
Daniels also has developed skills to balance teaching and research. As one of the founding members of the Sociology Graduate Student Committee, she has been a leader in the department and a voice for the graduate student perspective.
That also helped Daniels prepare for her teaching role. She hopes to encourage her students to see and realize their potential just as she was encouraged to do the same.
“I don’t know if any other university could have given me this much,” Daniels said.
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