By Karen H. Lee
Another academic year is coming to an end.
But the end of the semester also marks the end of Michael Schmidt’s first year as the Graduate Program Administrator of the Sociology department. I interviewed Michael for this short blog piece to learn more about him, and to thank him for a great first year.
Michael’s roots at the UT go deep. He began at UT as an undergraduate History major, excelling as a History Honors student, and went on to the graduate program to earn his PhD in History in 2014. His dissertation was titled, “The Multi-Sensory Object: Jazz, the Modern Media, and the History of the Senses in Germany.” Soon after earning his PhD, he worked as an Academic Advisor in the History Department, where he was awarded a 2016 Texas Exes James W. Vick Award for Academic Advising. He was then promoted to Graduate Coordinator of the Department of French and Italian. This year, we were fortunate enough to welcome him as the Graduate Program Administrator of the Sociology department.
Michael infuses the department with positive energy. Whether he is advising graduate students, passing out chocolate near the printers, or participating in a departmental event, his kindness and generosity are ever-present. What he loves about being part of a university is the constant exposure to other ways of thinking and new fields of knowledge. In our conversation, he recounts a time when he sat in on a Fem(me) Sem meeting, and saw that the types of questions that historians and sociologists ask are similar but also quite different. Group members asked many questions around “the nitty-gritty” of social dynamics whereas his first questions revolved around transformation over time. Michael says, “Being around sociologists is like a new education.”
Michael’s research interests are largely centered on the history of popular music and the changing ways in which the public perceives these media. He asks fascinating questions such as: how is cultural meaning produced and transformed over time? What is the relationship between material transformations in sound reproduction technology and the shifting cultural meanings of popular music? How do these shifts reflect changes in the audience and social position of the music across history? In speaking with Michael, I was reminded of the value of contemplating the social world from multiple disciplinary standpoints. Just as being around sociologists has been educational for Michael, it was also educational for me to think from a historian’s perspective.
In his words, a graduate program is “like a laboratory for developing one’s mind and capacity to analyze the world… maybe it’s the historian in me, but I like to see the transformation of students.” Ever generous and warm, he tells me that he considers it a privilege to see the work that students are doing because it is like “peeking into the future of the discipline.” However, he also knows that things can get difficult, which is why he works to support and advocate for students throughout the process.
We all have our stories about the time that Michael masterfully problem-solved an issue or gave helpful advice and support through the hurdles of the program. He tells me, “There is always so much going on. I’m not here to put obstacles, I’m here to lift the obstacles.” However, as we spoke more about the university, research, disciplines, and beyond, it became even clearer why Michael is such a wonderful addition. Amidst the bureaucratic noise and neoliberal clamor of the institution, Michael is a melody of curiosity and love for learning. For that, and much more, we are a better department because he is with us.
Karen H. Lee is a second-year graduate student in the Sociology department. She is broadly interested in intergroup relations and processes particularly as they relate to race, ethnicity, and nationalism. Her current research draws upon experimental methods and large-scale survey data analysis to examine public perceptions of ethnoracial protest. She’s also a co-coordinator of the Race and Ethnicity working group in the Sociology department.