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Faculty Spotlight: Cassie McMillan

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02/24/21 - BOSTON, MA: Cassie McMillan, assistant professor of sociology, criminology, and criminal justice, poses for a portrait on Feb. 24, 2021. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Cassie McMillan was originally a statistics major in college and eager to study math. As she learned more about regressions and other statistical techniques, she realized she wanted to do more with the knowledge she was gaining.

“I had an interest in these quantitative techniques, but I also was really interested in social justice issues and, in general, better understanding the inequalities that face our world and trying to alleviate them to make things better,” she says.

At the recommendation of a friend, McMillan enrolled in Intro to Sociology, a class that sparked a new academic interest in her. After learning that there was work in the sociology field involving the application of mathematical methods to solve social problems, McMillan declared majors in both sociology and statistics.

Coming to Northeastern

Now, as an assistant professor of sociology and criminology and criminal justice, most of McMillan’s work is at the intersection of sociology and criminology. Her research is primarily focused on delinquent behavior in adolescents, and the impact of social forces such as poverty, racism, and education on their decisions to participate in said risky behaviors. Combined with her background in statistics and quantitative analysis, McMillan has built herself a “methodological toolkit” that she utilizes within her studies.

“I think my sociological background brings a lot of helpful perspectives to thinking about different topics and answering key questions about crime and delinquency,” she says.

When looking for the right place to start her career as an educator in 2020, McMillan was attracted to Northeastern’s focus on interdisciplinary research and thinking — something that she has been heavily involved in throughout her academic career.

“I was excited to be part of a university that encouraged and actively facilitated these types of collaborations, as I believe this is the kind of environment where I can best meet my research and teaching goals,” she says.

Winning the Roger V. Gould Prize

In 2022, McMillan received the prestigious Roger V. Gould Prize from the American Journal of Sociology for her article, “With Friends Like These: Aggression from Amity and Equivalence,” co-authored by Bob Faris of the University of California, Davis and Diana Felmlee of Pennsylvania State University.

The paper examines the extent to which teenagers will harass and bully their friends or their friends’ friends—people viewed as rivals for popularity—in order to move up in the social hierarchy. The results of the study found higher rates of aggression between friends and people within one’s own social circle, with these people being viewed as “stepping stones” on the road to popularity. Because of this, anti-bullying programs are often not as effective as intended.

“Some of my all-time favorite papers that were quintessential in sparking my sociological interests have won the Gould Prize,” she says. “So I was very, very honored to be recognized.”

Courses, Research, and Advice to Future Sociologists

McMillan currently teaches Modeling and Analyzing Social Networks, a graduate-level course dedicated to exploring a social network perspective—which provides methods and theories to help analyze social structures and their patterns—through different mathematical and statistical techniques. In the Fall 2023 semester, she will be teaching Youth Crime, Gangs, and Networks, which analyzes theories about adolescents’ social network patterns and their engagement in delinquency.

Alongside her classes and projects, McMillan is also involved in several  institutes across the Boston campus. As a core faculty member in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks; affiliated faculty at the Network Science Institute; and a faculty scholar at the Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research, McMillan collaborates, shares feedback, and discusses research projects with like-minded faculty, scholars, and students.

For students interested in sociology or already majoring in the subject, McMillan recommends exploring different perspectives within the field until you find the one that excites you.

“One of the things I loved about getting my undergraduate degree in sociology was exploring so many perspectives. I [thought], ‘Wow, this is the coolest thing ever,’ McMillan says. “Just getting a good overview of the field—which is something you can definitely do here at Northeastern—is what I would definitely recommend.”

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