Professor Profile: Dr. Heather Downs

Misha Khan

Courtesy of JU

The sociology department at Jacksonville University undoubtedly has some unique people in it. However, one sociology professor’s intriguing personality really shines out. Dr. Heather Downs, originally from Springfield, IL, is completing her second year at JU.

She received her doctorate in sociology at the University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign, which according to her made the move to Jacksonville much more exciting.

“Urbana Champaign is a nice town in the middle of nowhere,” Downs said. “So I was really excited to move to Jacksonville and be near the beach in warm weather.”

For Dr. Downs, sociology came naturally and allowed her to look at society from a critical standpoint. What originally got her interested in the subject was the impact systems and organizations had on individuals.

“You can analyze how society promotes or oppresses people,” she said. “And to me that is an unending source of intellectual excitement. I think it is a fascinating way to look at the world and look at the connection between the individual and larger structure like the economy and health care.”

To Downs, seeing how all those things impact a person is not only captivating but studying about it helps keeps her mind refreshed and knowledgeable.

Downs started teaching back in 1998 when she was just a graduate student and has taught ever since. She may have worked part-time when she first began but she found her calling just helping the students out.

“I loved being with the students, I loved the atmosphere,” she said. “I liked the material and being able to have the intellectual discussion about your material.”

Downs went on to say how teaching others made her a student as well. Through teaching, she has been able to meet people from different backgrounds and being able to connect with those students has been an invaluable experience for her. An experience she tries to make better for her students as well be incorporating different things into her daily lessons. For her higher-level classes, she doesn’t need that strong of a hook to keep the students interested, but it can be a different story for the beginners.

“When I am teaching intro I try to do different activities that illustrate the point that we are learning that day,” Downs said. “I think of it kind of like a social lab. I do a gender scavenger hunt when they are learning about gender and social construction.”

Downs even laughed talking about her annoyance with cell phones and how she learned to embrace them by letting students use their camera phones to take pictures during their scavenger hunt and bringing them back to class to talk about. She even has guest speakers come in and perhaps even make a lucky student the mayor of Jacksonville for a day.

One can easily guess Dr. Downs’s love for music and entertainment from the giant Beatles poster in her office. However, she does have a serious side when it comes to education.

Downs said, whatever a student learns in the classroom is relevant to his or her real- world after graduation and is a discipline students need to pick up during their classes.

She expects students to have a sense of curiosity rather than a sense of dread about their education.

Dr. Downs is also part of the national sociology committee “The Committee on the Status of Women,” and plans to publish more books and travel in the future.

What is her dream trip?

“I want to visit Mount Everest,” she said with a big smile.

Dr. Heather Downs has a compelling personality that makes you want to learn more about her, and more about her discipline. Her classes rarely let a student down and for an aspiring teacher she seems to be on the right track.