Mary Kierst Hutchens
Mary Kierst Hutchens ’08 graduated from Southwestern with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. The honors thesis she completed on the passage and reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, the research she conducted on the relationship between religiosity and attitudes toward civil liberties, and the research fellowships and conference presentations that went along with each were excellent preparation for the PhD she began to pursue two years later. Immediately after graduation, Mary began to work in college admissions and became deeply interested in the challenges faced by the nontraditional students with whom she worked closely. She decided to put her training in political science and sociology to use in a multidisciplinary PhD program in public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University where she could study the policies that impact these students’ lives. At the end of six years, funded by an Experimental Education Research and Training (ExpERT) grant from the Department of Education and Institute for Education Science, she defended her dissertation, which used econometric methods to examine college choice among nontraditional students, the impact of multiple role strain on nontraditional students’ college completion, and the impact of developmental education on post-secondary outcomes. It is the opportunities afforded her by SU and the incredible faith placed in her by the faculty there that allowed her to pursue research in an area about which she is so passionate. She is currently working as a researcher with the Vanderbilt Institutional Research Group and looking forward to seeing where in academia this degree may lead.