Speaker series to showcase value of sociological research

Donor Dr. Dianne Looker encourages faculty, students to be inspired and make a difference


By Laura Churchill Duke (’98)

As a university student, Dianne Looker had an a-ha moment that went on to shape her career and help influence a new generation of students.

As an undergraduate studying sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Looker remembers fondly how her professor, Dr. Peter Pineo, told her that careful quantitative sociological research can and does inform policy and contribute in important ways to understanding the world.

For example, he noted that limited, one-time surveys such as census data showed the number of people living in poverty in the United States was fairly constant, even over several decades. This created the assumption that there was a culture of poverty, and it was almost impossible to lift anyone out of it.

However, Looker learned that sociologists conducting longitudinal surveys demonstrated there was, in fact, a lot of turnover. About a third to half moved out of poverty in a given time period and were replaced by others who had a temporary downturn in their financial situation.

Rather than being static, the situation was quite fluid and policy interventions could be put in place to support those in need and help struggling families to be self-sufficient, Looker says.

Since those days, Looker has been passionate about research and Pineo’s observation affirmed that sociology can and does provide important insights that can inform policies and actions.

The concept of learning from those in the field was transformative, and solidified years later when her son, David Toews (’05), an Acadia biology graduate and federal employee at the time, was invited back to the University to make a presentation about his career path. This was made possible through the Keith Porter fund in biology.

“I attended that talk and was impressed by the positive response from the many students who were present,” Looker says.

Dianne Looker Sociology Fund

When Looker retired as Professor Emerita from Acadia’s sociology department after a 35-year career, she wanted to provide a gift that would make a difference. The culmination of her career experiences led to the creation of the Dianne Looker Sociology Fund.

The intent is to support a presentation by a guest speaker at Acadia every year or every other year, depending on the funds available, Looker says. Priority will be given to Acadia sociology graduates, but those in other disciplines and/or those from other programs might also be considered.

Speakers will talk about their career path, hopefully in a way to inspire current students. They will also be invited to speak on what they might have done differently and things they are glad they did.

The presentations will highlight the different ways a sociology degree can be used inside and outside of academia, and underscore the benefits of the sociological perspective to understanding the structure and complexity of social relations, Looker says.

“Arts students sometimes fret about the usefulness of their degree, and someone similar to themselves can speak personally to the ways such a degree can be used,” she adds.

She hopes these presentations will help students broaden their perspective when thinking about paths to take after their undergraduate or master’s degree at Acadia.

Lesley Frank (’95), a current sociology professor, says the Diane Looker Fund will be a valuable tool for reconnecting with sociology alumni and celebrating their success. Equally important, it will serve to showcase the varied and transformative pathways a sociology degree can forge.

Enhance the Acadia experience

While direct support for students through scholarships and bursaries is critical and improvements to infrastructure are beneficial to the campus community, special programming initiatives like this enhance the Acadia experience, providing opportunities for both students and alumni to engage on a different level, says Nancy Handrigan (’92), Vice-President, Advancement (Interim).

“Investments like Dianne’s allow departments to strengthen regular programming for students and showcase Acadia’s own,” she adds.

“The interest and support of retired faculty, staff, and alumni demonstrates the deep appreciation for the Acadia experience from both teacher and student perspectives,” Handrigan says. “Acadia is grateful to them for supporting the many initiatives that benefit students, particularly when there is opportunity for alumni engagement.”

The first presentation will likely happen in the fall of 2022. The department will set up a small committee to choose the presenter and, upon approval, arrange the details of the presentation.

“There has not, to this point, been any discussion of my participation in this decision process,” says Looker, noting she will leave that up to the department to decide.

“Dianne’s thoughtful initiative will be a boost for Acadia’s sociology department in perpetuity,” Handrigan says. “It’s a wonderful legacy!”

Anyone wishing to donate to the fund can do so online at giving.acadiau.ca/diannelooker or by cheque made payable to “Acadia University” at Office of Advancement, Acadia University, 15 University Avenue, Wolfville, NS B4P 2R6.

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