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Online sociology degree leads alum from rural town to Fulbright scholarship and more

Headshot image of Sarah Brown, a sociology graduate of Oregon State University

Sarah Brown’s impressive academic and career journey has only been enhanced since earning a sociology bachelor’s degree online with Oregon State and conducting a yearlong Fulbright research project.

May 14, 2020

Shortly after moving from Corvallis, Oregon, to a small rural town in Washington more than 20 years ago, Sarah Brown started an organic produce farm.

She did everything from customer service to digging ditches, and in the process she gained firsthand knowledge of the hardships people go through trying to live off the land.

“I wanted to make a positive impact, and growing food is such a basic thing to do,” Brown said. “It seemed like one way to really positively influence not only the land, but also my community by rallying people around organic produce.”

She successfully ran her business for nearly a decade before deciding to focus on it as a hobby instead of a living after her son was born.

That’s when she decided to pursue a sociology bachelor’s degree online with Oregon State Ecampus. The program’s focus on human values and community – and the social forces that shape them – aligned with her own interests.

Brown had everything going for her. Until it wasn’t.

Community restoration amid disaster

In 2014, her town in Washington’s Methow Valley fell victim to the Carlton Complex wildfire, the largest wildfire in state history. “And it started across the river from my house,” she said.

The fire burned the hillside by her home, her irrigation, fences and trees.

“It burned everything else, including 300 of my neighbors’ houses. It was intense,” she said.

But what stood strong was the community support. The town members did what they could to help those in need and even set up foundations to rebuild.

“The core classes for the sociology program were incredible in helping me prepare to conceive, build, write and research for my project in Hungary.”

While others might feel like they’ve had enough, Brown didn’t let it get her down. She worked even harder to restore her community and continued on her pursuit of an education – one class at a time. 

“I started Ecampus when it was still a pretty new program where they had VHS videos that they would mail to me,” said Brown, whose husband, Brian Fisher, earned his natural resources degree online with OSU Ecampus in 2007. “It was hard being in such a rural location. It was really different than now.”

A (Ful)bright future

Technology evolved as her studies continued. It took a decade for her to earn her diploma, but, she said, it was worth every year’s work – and it paid off in the most rewarding way.

After graduating with honors in 2016, Brown earned a prestigious Fulbright scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year. She spent the year in Hungary, conducting independent research focused on rural social innovation methods and successes.

And the knowledge she gained in OSU’s sociology program significantly impacted her ability to succeed as a researcher overseas.

“The core classes for the sociology program were incredible in helping me prepare to conceive, build, write and research for my project in Hungary,” said Brown, who was the first OSU Ecampus student to receive a Fulbright scholarship.

She even brought tutorials and files from her undergraduate studies with her as a reference.

“For me as a researcher, there is a wealth of information to pull from,” she said prior to leaving on her Fulbright fellowship, “and if I can pull numbers that are pertinent to my questions, then I will actually be able to interpret them using the statistical tools that I learned in my class that taught that.”

Brown’s career has continued to prosper since returning from Hungary. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Cornell University and has held various leadership roles in the workforce.

Learn more about Oregon State’s sociology bachelor’s program and how you can earn your degree online.

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A portion of this story was originally published in 2017.

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