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Cynthia Merriwether-DeVries

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Cynthia Merriwether-DeVries

"I may not look like many of my students but I'm willing to bet my life experience is very similar to theirs."

So says Cynthia Merriwether-DeVries, assistant professor of sociology and the first African-American tenure-track faculty member in Juniata's history. Merriwether-DeVries, called "Cy" by all who know her, points out that her family history and path to a career closely parallels the typical Juniata student.

Both of her parents, who raised a blended family of seven children in Bronx, N.Y., worked, and although neither completed college, both emphasized the value of a college education. Her father, a water purification technician for the Environmental Protection Agency, and her mother, an administrator in a health care organization, instilled in their children a fierce desire for learning.

"My mother always had a book to read on the subway and our car was always filled with books," DeVries says. "I think I have always been a sociologist-I was the kid in the back of the station wagon saying 'Hey, look at that guy. What's his story?'"

Her parents' lessons were indelible examples for her and after excelling at Walton High School, an all-girl magnet, school DeVries earned a scholarship to Swarthmore College in 1976. The financial aid award lessened each year and by her junior year, Cy's parents could not afford the full tuition for her senior year. Undeterred, DeVries worked at a series of jobs before finding her niche as a community coordinator and victim's advocate at a domestic abuse center in Delaware County.

At the same time, she met and married Paul DeVries, a potter and painter. The couple's daughter, Jillian, is 18. The couples' career path brought them to central Pennsylvania when Cy accepted a job at the Centre County Women's Resource Center in State College, Pa. She yearned for some way to affect how federal and state agencies make policy for family issues. "It seemed much more important being in the fray than stepping back and studying issues," she says.

Two conversations with her parents made her reconsider. Right before her father passed away, he told DeVries that he had always expected his daughter to one day return to school.

Her intent, upon enrolling at Penn State, was to get a bachelor's degree and return to her advocacy work. During her course work, she was able to work on a research project with Robert Plomin, a Penn State professor who told her she "had a researcher's mind." "I took the big plunge and took out student loans and entered the master's program," DeVries says.

DeVries, who earned her doctorate in 2000, tackled several research projects. As she approached earning her doctorate, several administrators urged her to apply for a sociology position that had opened at Juniata. At first, she was hesitant. "Growing up, a Professor was the stupid guy on 'Gilligan's Island' who couldn't build a boat on an island full of trees," she laughs.

She decided to join the Juniata faculty and currently teaches such courses as The Minority Experience, Again in Society and Social Work Policy, while developing Social Movement and Social Change and a Women's Studies course. If there is a constant thread running through her life, DeVries recalls the civil rights slogan of "Do the Right Thing." "I hope a bring a sense of importance to the job beyond the classroom. It's not about what we teach but also who we are as people."

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