Spring 2023 grad: For Henry Lee, “Wisconsin Experience” will continue as part of his identity

Henry Lee, who grew up in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago, will be graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree. He is majoring in both community and environmental sociology and in sociology. In this Q&A, he talks about the winding course of his academic journey, embracing extracurricular activities, and the importance of kindness.

Why did you choose your major?
Most of my undergraduate experience is characterized by my journey to stick with a major. Coming into CALS, I was set on obtaining a natural science degree, originally committing to food science. I became highly involved in the world of food science, but over time I began to feel like food science, or natural sciences in general, was not a good fit for me. However, during that time, I was also committed to exploring interests outside of the natural sciences specifically by taking classes in the social sciences. In my first semester of freshman year, I took C&E Sociology 140: Introduction to Community and Environmental Sociology, and I fell in love with the craft of sociology. So I ended up choosing to major in Community and Environmental Sociology and then lated added CAR (Concentration in Analysis & Research) Sociology in the College of Letters and Science as my official second major.

I chose to major in two sociology degrees because of sociology’s power to identify and change social inequities using critical analyses and deductive empiricism. Sociology is a unique field of inquiry because it is characterized by investigating broader social phenomena that influence social and individual behaviors. By choosing to major in two sociology degrees, I learned how to think about how social phenomena are probed by cultural, structural, and historical influences that perpetuate particular social mechanisms more than others. In other words, my education in sociology taught me to view social phenomena as linked to tangible social mechanisms that can be identified, measured, and critically critiqued to promote a stronger and more united future.

What other activities were you involved in?
Throughout my undergraduate experience, I was primarily involved in activities centered around my majors or my professional development. For the three out of four years of my undergraduate experience, I was heavily involved in food science related activities: undergraduate research on foodborne pathogens, an 8-month full-time product development internship, various leadership roles in Food Science Club, and Product Development Team. However, I maintained interests in activities outside of food science: being a teaching assistant for two freshman orientation classes for about two years, and being a summer data analyst intern at a large retail company. As I reflect on all the activities I was involved in during my undergraduate experience, I acquired several soft skills in teamwork, leadership, communication, organization, and data literacy.

What are your future academic and/or career plans?
My short term post-graduation plan is to enjoy life outside of academia! I have a full-time position as an analyst for Kohl’s starting this coming July; once I graduate, I plan to take time for myself until my start date, work in industry for the foreseeable future, and then see where life takes me. If UW-Madison has taught me anything, I must continue my life’s journey with empathy and humility, relentless curiosity, intellectual confidence, and purposeful action, or more broadly enact the Wisconsin Experience as a part of my identity. With that, whether I choose to come back to the academy for a graduate degree or stay in industry moving forward, I plan to always keep the Wisconsin Experience ingrained into my professional and personal selves.

What were the most meaningful college experiences you had?
My most meaningful college experiences I had was being an undergraduate teaching assistant to freshman and talking with various professors, researchers, and graduate students. I was a teaching assistant for roughly two years, helping instruct summer, fall, and spring freshman orientation courses, and I had a wonderful time learning what makes students flourish and how I can best assist students with the help of fellow undergraduate teaching assistants and faculty. Outside of being a teaching assistant, I possessed curiosity for my courses, even in subjects that I knew I would not continue in. I set up meetings with various instructors to discuss specific subject material out of genuine interest, but primarily for me to gauge what motivates these people to do the work they do. Though the responses were generally related to genuine curiosity, personal importance, and a knack for the professional craft, all of the discussions I had demonstrated folks’ dedication to use their knowledge to make a positive impact in their respective fields. By both being an undergraduate teaching assistant and talking with fellow academics, I know these experiences will continue to guide my personal and professional lives.

When you think about your time here as a student, what are you proud of?
As a student, I am proud of my dedication and curiosity in both my academics and myself. I had to grow up a lot during college, and I still am, but as I reflect back on my entire college experience, I can sense the growth between the self that I am right now and my freshman self as I feel more grounded in my personal interests and moral convictions.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
Remembering that learning true intelligence means more than just academics, it also means thinking and enacting kindness, empathy, and strength of character. Though academics are a high priority towards collegiate success, gaining more intelligence means using knowledge to always try to be the best person one can be individually and socially.

Did you participate in the CALS QuickStart program?
Yes; it was a great experience so much that I helped instruct the course as a teaching assistant during my college experience.