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Kelli Thomas ‘24 Dedicates Herself to Education for Service in Her Community with Master’s in Applied Sociology


Leading up to Spring Commencement, we’re asking some of our graduates to tell us about their experience as Greyhounds and what they have planned for the next step in their journey. Meet Kelli Thomas, who will receive her Master of Arts in Applied Sociology with a concentration in community leadership and nonprofit management this May! 

Why did you choose to pursue your master’s in applied sociology?

Applied sociology is all about taking the research and knowledge you gain from learning about society and systems and using that information to make a change in the community. I chose sociology because it puts people and the issues faced by many at the forefront. Sociology acknowledges the struggles of the past, present, and future and seeks to find solutions to social issues that many communities struggle with.

Why did you choose UIndy?

I chose to study at UIndy because of the small campus feel and the emphasis on service and community.

Are you a part of any extracurriculars (RSOs, societies, student leadership, teams, volunteerism, etc.) on or off campus? If so, what are they and what is your role?

Yes, during my time at UIndy, I worked as a graduate assistant for the Department of Sociology, completed my practicum with the Office of Inclusive Excellence and Retention Strategy. I also served as the technical manager for UIndy Theatre as well as the President of the UIndy Theatre Student Collective. I was also proud to serve as President of the Black Student Association (BSA) from 2021 to 2023. 

Are there any faculty or staff members who have significantly impacted your time at UIndy? If so, who are they and how did they influence you?

Dr. Colleen Wynn, Dr. Liz Ziff, Dr. Grant Williams, Penny Sornberger, and Christian Mckinney  have all shaped my academic career at UIndy. If it wasn’t for their unwavering support, grace, and encouragement I would not have been able to get through these past five years. I cannot thank them enough for believing in me and providing me with endless opportunities and safe spaces.

How have UIndy’s resources helped you succeed or pursue new opportunities? 

During my time at UIndy, I utilized the Stephen F. Fry Professional Edge Center (ProEdge), Office of Inclusive Excellence (OIE), the Writing Lab, and Academic Advising. All of these services helped me not feel alone when struggling with career options, identity, and my next steps. I found support in all of the people that work in these offices and had the confidence to continue to pursue my dreams despite any bumps along the way.

During your time at UIndy, did you have the opportunity to complete an internship or earn part-/full-time employment with an organization in your field? If so, what was it and how did it help you professionally?

I had the amazing opportunity of working with CariAnn Freed in the Office of Inclusive Excellence (OIE) this past year, and it truly gave me more tools and perspective on working with marginalized communities and building safe spaces for various communities.

What are your plans after graduation?

This past January, I was made the Youth Program Manager at the Latinas Welding Guild, which is a nonprofit that seeks to provide adults and youth, especially those who come from low income or marginalized backgrounds, with affordable, equitable job training In my position, I am able to educate Indianapolis youth on their options when it comes to career paths and help them build job and leadership skills as they transition into adulthood. In addition, I plan to continue working in various nonprofit organizations, including theatre and youth serving organizations.

How did your degree program prepare you for your next steps?

My degree opened me up to understand a lot of nuances about my community and the world around me. It inspired me to realize that positive change is possible for communities facing poverty, racism, sexism, and so much more. In classes, we did many projects and practiced hands-on learning, which helped me get first hand experience with research and what it means to work with people. My professors exposed me to a lot of different career options and connected me with local sociologists and community leaders so I could get a glimpse of what was possible for me in my career path.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at UIndy?

I enjoyed going to all of the Midnight Breakfast festivities, the events from BSA and OIE, and the amazing plays put on by the Theatre Department. I was really able to connect with my peers and have a space to be myself.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?
To incoming freshmen, my advice is to keep your options open and don’t limit yourself. Be open to new ideas and more than one career path. Take a class in a topic that interests you that may be outside of your major because you never know where that could lead you. Sometimes you don’t always know until you know. Also, practice good time management early! ! Especially if you’re like me and like to be really involved in a lot of activities.