Student Award Winners


The Margaret Eisch Memorial Award in Sociology is named in honor of Margaret Eisch who was a Notre Dame student and sociology major. Margaret met with a fatal accident in July 1976, between her junior and senior years. In her memory, her parents established this annual award for Notre Dame’s most outstanding sociology major. 

Winner of the Margaret Eisch Memorial Award:

Sarah Ritten

Sarah Pic For Bio 1

If you have ever met Sarah Ritten, you probably know three things about her: she is passionate about social justice, she loves to travel, and she knows how to build a house from the foundation up.

As a Sociology major with Poverty Studies and Education, Schooling, and Society minors, Sarah has spent the past four years learning about our most pressing social problems and methods to solve them. Coming into Notre Dame, Sarah knew that she wanted to be a Sociology major. After spending her summers building houses in Appalachia throughout high school, Sarah knew she was called to work towards creating a more socially just world. Studying Sociology gave Sarah a deeper understanding about educational equity, housing injustice, and social networks. With this knowledge, Sarah was able to lead various Appalachia seminars through the Center for Social Concerns, where her passion for social justice and newfound love of Catholic Social Teachings aligned to help create more sustainable housing solutions in Central Appalachia.


Additionally, Sarah’s deep interest in educational equity and love of travel led her to accept an offer from the Kellogg Institute to teach in Cape Town, South Africa the summer after her sophomore year. In Cape Town, Sarah learned much more about race relations, global health, and international educational inequality. Sarah’s teaching experience and the relationships she built with her high school students allowed her to return to Cape Town six months later, thanks to the Eisch Endowment, to conduct research on race relations within South African schools.

After studying abroad in Athens, Greece the spring of her junior year and accepting an offer to teach Early Childhood Education with Teach for America in 2019, Sarah came back to campus senior year with her thesis topic in mind: how race affects the parent-teacher relationship. This topic grew into her final thesis paper, titled “Perceptions, Pairings, and Parent Involvement: Race Matching and Teachers’ Reports of Parent Involvement.” Sarah loved using the research tools and methods she picked up in her three years of Sociology to inform her thesis and research, and she cannot wait to use her Sociology, Poverty Studies, and Education degrees to challenge the substandard housing landscape in Chicago with her year-long AmeriCorps position with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago next year!


Past Winners of the Margaret Eisch Memorial Award







This year’s Margaret Eisch Award winner pursued majors in sociology and statistics and was a participant in the sociology department’s honors track and the Glynn Family Honors Program.  Nicolette's interest in sociology dates back to a high school behavioral science course.  She was drawn to the breadth, diversity, and applicability of sociology and became fascinated by the discipline’s focus on social organizations and institutions. 

Nicolette served as an undergraduate research assistant to Dr. Mary Ellen Konieczny for three years, working on projects spanning studies of marriage and family, religion, and the military.  Through this experience, she learned a great deal about qualitative data analysis, which led her to pursue an interview-based senior thesis entitled “Incarcerated Motherhood: Exploring Formerly Imprisoned Women’s Parenting Attitudes and Practices.”  Advised by Dr. David Gibson, this project examined how formerly incarcerated mothers perceive and try to fulfill their parental roles during incarceration and reentry. 

Nicolette’s interests in incarceration, crime, and family stem from her participation in a crime and justice course taught inside an all-male state prison in which participants were a mix of Notre Dame students and men currently incarcerated at the facility.  During her undergraduate career, Nicolette was also a summer intern at an organization in East Harlem that provides women with an alternative to incarceration and assistance with reentry.  The extraordinary research opportunities and academic training offered by Notre Dame’s sociology department have inspired and prepared Nicolette to become a sociologist, and, this fall, she will begin work on a PhD in sociology at Harvard University.


Jaclyn Paul

Jaclyn Paul majored in Sociology, participating in our Honors Track, and minored in Business Economics. Jackie said that what drew her to the Sociology major was the “way Sociologists approached thinking about the world.” And she loved the “vast array of classes on completely different subjects” that she could take throughout her time here. Jackie’s experience in undergraduate research included a year in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society’s Undergraduate Fellowship Program where she looked at “the giving/donation patterns to international humanitarian aid organizations based on a person’s religious affiliation and the person’s familiarity with the organizations.” Jackie spent another year researching for her senior thesis, conducting classroom observations of discipline practices in kindergarten and first grade classrooms. In her thesis, entitled, Flip Your Card, Name on the Board: Discipline in Early Elementary Classrooms,” she “explored the characteristics of the discipline methods that allowed for more effective and less disruptive discipline and the characteristics that hindered effective discipline or disrupted teaching time.” Jackie’s poster for this project was awarded “Honorable Mention” at the Undergraduate Scholars Conference on May 1, 2015. Jackie says that exposure to research helped her to “be a more critical and informed reader of other scholar’s projects” and allowed her “to appreciate the work and time that goes into a research project.” She believes that “engaging in research as an undergraduate has helped her to have a better understanding of the important work that scholars contribute to society.” Her service to the university and community included work through the Center for Social Concerns. She was part of the International Summer Service Learning Program during the summer of 2013 where she went to Komga, South Africa to work at an organization called Open Arms Home for Children. Having fallen in love with South Africa and working with children, she returned the next summer (2014) through the Kellogg Internship program and worked as a Grade R (equivalent to Kindergarten) teacher through a partnership with World Teach. Jackie also went to Bethlehem Farm through the Center for Social Concern’s Appalachia program. And she was the Liturgical Commissioner for her dorm, Lewis Hall, for a year and remained involved in the dorm as much as possible. Jackie had this to say about the role she thinks sociology will play in her future: “To work with impoverished or underserved populations, there needs to be an inherent understanding of the social movements and group dynamics that are apparent in society affecting these populations. My sociology background gives me a solid foundation in which to begin to think about and understand the world. I also intend to return to graduate school in a few years, and my sociological background will play an integral part in what program I decide to pursue.”


karyn_vilbigKaryn took “Introduction to Social Problems” in her first year at ND and “there was no looking back.” She loved the way Sociology allows one to objectively study things that seem messy and confusing or too difficult to really figure out but whose answers have huge implications for making the world a better place.Karyn maintained a 4.0 in her Sociology major throughout her time here. She got involved with undergraduate research by helping a faculty member on her study of student involvement in social causes, volunteerism, and cultural activities. Karyn’s senior thesis—entitled, “Selling the Slums”—explored the ways in which markets transform slum tourism, across the globe, from something to be avoided to something people pay to do. Karyn had the following to say about undergraduate research: “Doing research allows students to put to practice what they would otherwise only ever read about. It introduces a new depth of learning through hands on experience. Everyone should do research.”Karyn engaged in service during her time at Notre Dame. She also took a year off after her sophomore year and served with City Year Chicago where she worked full time to help ninth grade students get back on track to graduate. In addition, she did a Summer Service Learning Project through the Center for Social Concerns, working at a residential facility for teenagers in foster care. She also tutored at both Dismas House and the Juvenile Correctional Facility. In her senior year, she served as a marketing and communications intern at Downtown South Bend.Karyn sees sociology as not just a field of study but rather as a way of thinking. Thus, she believes that no matter what she does in the future, she will always be making use of the mindset Sociology taught her—both in her professional and her personal life. Next year, Karyn will be a fellow with “Venture for America,” in a startup company in Baltimore, MD, called “Eyemaginations, which creates software for helping doctors to better educate their patients.




Each year, the Sociology Department awards a monetary prize for the best essay or research paper submitted by a graduating Sociology major on a topic of sociological relevance.  The paper may have been written for a sociology class or may be a report of an independent research project, such as a senior thesis.

2018 Winner of Sociology’s Senior Essay Award:

Lily Falzon for her thesis, entitled, “Conflicting Methodologies and Cross-Cultural Validation: Investigating the Current State of Chinese Medicine.”

Past Winners of the Senior Essay Award

2017 - L. Ash Smith for her thesis, entitled, "Queer Television and Queer Perceptions. How Television Impacts Perceptions of the LGBT Community's Socioeconomic Status."

2016 - Shannon Sheehan for her thesis, entitled, "Inverse Inequality: How Both Genders Navigate the Sexual Double Standard of College Hook-Up Culture"

2015 - Kathleen Brennan for her thesis, entitled, "Perception vs. Reality: Sectarian Antisocial Behavior and Belfast Youth."

2014 - Aaron Sant-Miller for his thesis, entitled, "Leading Power: A Team Cohesiveness Challenge to Resource Dependence Theory in Professional Sports Organizations."

2013 - Melanie Fritz for her thesis, entitled, "Patriarchy, Motherhood, and Preventive Care: Iraqi refugee women in the United States and their access to obstetric-gynecologic healthcare."

2012 - Jennie Cimino and Caitlin Urbain  for their report, entitled, "Who or What is to Blame? Behind the Debate of the Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder."

2011 - Kaitlyn Conway for her thesis, entitled, “Níl Aon Tír Ann Gan Teanga: There is No Country Without a Language.”

2010 - Amanda Lewis for her report, entitled, “Perceptions and Realities: Discerning the Relationship between Mayan Women and the Roman Catholic Church.”