Debra David (1969)

Associate Dean for First Year Experience, San Jose State University

My career path at Berkeley and beyond was neither linear nor traditional, reflecting departmental and social discontinuities during the early 1970's. The first two years were very intense. As I took classes with Neil Smelser, Norm Denzin, Herbert Blumer, Bob Blauner, and others, my life was also directly touched by events related to the Vietnam War, radical movements, and the 'counterculture.' My academic experience changed abruptly when the three faculty members with whom I worked most closely all left Berkeley in Fall, 1971 - two permanently and one (Smelser) on sabbatical. Searching for new mentors, I found the interdisciplinary program in Human Development across the bay at UCSF. I also dropped out for more than a year to explore alternative careers, but a recession led me back to complete my courses and preliminary orals. 

Now 'ABD' and married, I bounced around the country with my first husband, an erstwhile academic. We went first to Kansas City, where I taught sociology at UMKC and wrote my dissertation proposal, then to Cleveland, where I was a research analyst in a gerontology organization, the Benjamin Rose Institute, and collected dissertation data. Last, in Chicago, I directed an NIMH-funded project to create a community college gerontology program, analyzed the data, divorced, and wrote my dissertation, in about that order. Neil Smelser and Arlie Hochschild guided my dissertation by mail and my brief annual visits to Berkeley.

During the 1980s and 90s, I identified mainly as a gerontologist and a program developer, creating and working with interdisciplinary gerontology programs. With doctorate in hand and remarried, I worked first in Evanston (National College of Education and Northwestern University), then moved to head the Gerontology Program (Health Science Department) at San José State University. I've been settled in San José, with my husband and our two daughters, since 1987. My research has focused on practice and policy related to eldercare services, health ethics, and ethnogerontology. In January 2000, I changed career paths to become Director of the SJSU Center for Service-Learning. This has brought me closer to my sociological roots.

The Sociology Department at Berkeley influenced my career by enabling me to see the 'big picture' and grounding me in theory, especially political economy and interactionist perspectives. I attribute my interdisciplinary interest in the life course to the Human Development Program at UCSF. And I learned how to apply sociology to policy and practice in my subsequent wanderings.

If my sociology has 'shaped the world,' it has been through the courses and programs I've developed and taught in human development and gerontology, the applied research I've conducted in ethics and eldercare, and my current work to infuse sociological awareness across the disciplines by connecting undergraduate students with community issues through service-learning. In working with colleagues, students, practitioners, and policy-makers, I have tried to help them see the links between 'personal troubles' and 'public issues' that I learned as a student of the sociological imagination.

Dissertation Title: 
The Uses of Memory: Social Aspects of Remininscence in Old Age