After transferring to HNU, James (Cogley) Viramontez ‘17 received his bachelor’s in sociology and is now working as a case manager at St. Mary’s Center in Oakland.
What brought you to HNU?
Before transferring to Holy Names in 2015, I studied philosophy at Boston College. It wasn’t a great fit, and I ended up leaving early and traveling around for a bit before moving back to California to be close to my support network, my family. I grew up in Paso Robles and Oakland, California.
I compared and contrasted HNU against other options. I knew I could transfer to a state school, those are good schools, but they were too big for me—I’d tried that type of school before. I knew I was looking for a college with a supportive, close, and inclusive community. And these are the qualities that attracted me to HNU. HNU had this great mission statement that talks about social justice, something I’m passionate about, and a great community. The Sisters are truly present on campus.
What was your experience at HNU like?
HNU is one of those places that is really what you make it. You can coast here and just get the grades to graduate, or it’s a place where you can grow a lot. The sociology program was perfect for me because I was able to make it what I wanted. There was so much support from the faculty and a lot of opportunities to have one-on-one interactions.
While I was here, I worked. I worked at the bookstore and did a work-study at St. Mary’s Center that led to my current full-time job. I was President of the Peace and Social Justice club for two years and that gave me a platform to promote social justice.
In the Peace and Social Justice club, we started each year figuring out what we want to work on. We talked about systemic issues like immigration, police brutality, but decided to focus our activism on making things better in our own community. During my two years as president, we advocated for two main things: unionizing adjunct professors and confronting the administration on four academic programs that were being cut. Even if our demands weren’t always met, the community and administration heard us out, and were willing to sit down and have a conversation with us. Larger institutions would not have even acknowledged or responded to us. It was a great experience.
How did HNU prepare you for your current career?
HNU opened doors for me. The school is connected and has long-term partners in the community, like the Oakland Catholic Worker and St. Vincent de Paul’s. By having access to these established community partners at HNU, it opened the doors to apply. Faculty and staff were very supportive in helping form these connections.
What drew you to Sociology?
Before I started the program, I was already pretty active as a volunteer and community activist and worked regularly in homeless shelters. Through these experiences, I knew I wanted to be a social worker.
My academic journey started out with my studying philosophy, and then I realized that all philosophy could bring me was more understanding and what I really wanted was more action. Through sociology, I can put the concepts of morality and ethics into practice.
What is it like to work as a case manager for St. Mary’s Center in Oakland?
My work is fulfilling, dynamic, and interpersonal. It’s not a desk job. I advocate for people without housing every day. I need to be creative and look for the best resources for each of my clients. This requires interactions and relationship building with property managers, doctors, hospitals, professionals. Working with people I advocate for directly keeps their agency close to my heart.
My job at St. Mary’s prepares me for so many career directions, I could go into management or pursue licensure, or become a counselor for people with mental health issues. It’s nice to have a clear career path.
Do you have any advice for students considering a sociology degree?
Sociology opens the doors for a myriad of career paths and opportunities. It helps me “be woke”. Sociology is the study of being woke. And if you’re woke in the Bay Area you can move in any circle and be comfortable in any environment. The foundation of sociology is unlearning the myths of our society, like that poor people are poor because they are lazy. Sociology will help you learn on a rigorous academic level to be with people and not pose judgment, to work with them as individuals and to develop relationships that aren’t founded on myths.
I know a lot of people starting out their education don’t know what they want to do, and they are easily swayed by what they think will make them money. I say, don’t let fear be your only motivation when choosing a degree. Do what you are driven to do and you will be provided for. Take into account what works for you and what you care about, and you are going to feel successful. You have to love what you do in order for people to see that and want you to do more of it.