Jesse Wozniak (2004 Sociology B.A. and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Honors Program graduate) received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Minnesota and now serves as Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University. Dr. Wozniak has a book coming out in March 2021, “Policing Iraq: Legitimacy, Democracy, and Empire in a Developing State” (University of California Press). He recently shared reflections on his decade of ethnographic research in Iraqi Kurdistan, the impact of his honors education, and advice he would share with his younger self.

Your book's summary mentions the work is the result of years of in-person study in Iraq. Tell us more about how that transpired and the unique research approach you used. 

The work examines the reconstruction of the Iraqi police force in the wake of the American-led invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Over the past decade, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Iraq observing police training courses, station houses, and the response of police to major public control situations. I’ve interviewed over 90 police officers and judges throughout the Kurdistan Regional Government, ranging from students at the police academy to police chiefs to top-level governmental officials overseeing policing, and talked to judges ranging from the court of first appearances all the way to Supreme Court justices. As far as I’m aware, no one else has ever conducted this kind of long-term, up-front study of observing the reconstruction of a nation’s police force in real time during active conflict.

The genesis of this project actually began with my senior honors thesis, which I wrote under the direction of Kent Sandstrom and Stephen Muzzatti. My senior honors thesis ended up being a critical examination of the history of American policing. Indeed, some of the work I did on the history of US policing for my honors thesis ended up in my forthcoming book! Anyway, as I progressed through graduate school, I became especially interested in viewing these processes in action, to actually see in real time how a nation struggles to figure out what it has a police force for and what that police force should do. Pretty much the only places to observe this in action at the time were Iraq and Afghanistan, so having a few tenuous connections to the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, I hopped a plane having one contact in the nation and went from there. The thing I love the most about academic research, and ethnography in particular, is that a massive project like this can begin like it did – just getting a crazy idea and seeing how far you can follow it. In large part, this idea I’m still chasing almost 20 years later began during my studies at UNI.

In what ways did your time at UNI, including honors involvement, prepare you for life as an academic?

My time at UNI, especially being involved in the honors program, prepared me for being an academic in so many ways. The seminar-style courses in the honors program allowed me to get to know professors in meaningful ways. I didn’t really know what academia was before entering the program, but I ended up being involved in a number of research projects with faculty members, introducing me to the actual research process as it operates in reality. But far more meaningfully than that, I got to know my professors on an individual level, several of whom I’m still friends with to this day. They really demystified a lot of academia for me and their help and encouragement were invaluable in getting me both into and through graduate school.

Now that you're a professor, what do you wish you could tell your college-aged self?

If we’re talking about me specifically, the majority of my advice would be to give a long second thought about your hairstyles and fashion choices. But on a more general level, I’d think two things are handy to know. As a student I wish I’d really appreciated how unique and fleeting an experience it is to get to learn about literally anything you want from experts in that field. Granted, this is how I ended up with 2 majors and 3 minors, but there is genuinely nothing more I miss from college than the ability to indulge every curiosity you have. Curious about how stars work? Take an astronomy course! Wonder how operas are written? Take a music theory course! There will be few other times in life you’ll have the ability to be exposed to this many different amazing ideas. 

The other lesson would be to know that there really are no stupid questions. In the classroom, I can assure you that if you have that question, a good half-dozen other people do, too. Professors love any kind of question that gives them an excuse to talk about the field they love. But really I mean this in life – everything can and should be questioned, and often the most seemingly simple questions produce the most interesting answers. Heck, most of my career has stemmed from asking what a lot of other people would call stupid questions.

Andrea Austin

Andrea Austin, a 2007 graduate, attended medical school at the University of Iowa after graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in Biology: Biomedical Honors Research from UNI.  She participated in the Health Professionals Scholarship Program (HPSP), a program in which the military pays for medical school in exchange for a service commitment.  Upon graduating from medical school in 2011, Austin completed her residency at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in Emergency MedicineIn 2016, she deployed to Iraq as the Emergency Physician in a shock trauma platoon.  She currently serves as the Simulation Director at the Navy Trauma Training Center, located at LA County + USC, where she trains Navy Corpsmen, nurses and physicians before deploying to combat zones in trauma and critical care through didactics, simulations and clinical rotations.  

Like many of our alums, Austin serves as a health professional on the frontlines during this novel pandemic.  She made a guest appearance on her colleague’s podcast, the Emergency Mind, to talk about her experiences and shortly after was contacted by a reporter from The Washington Post who wanted to feature her in a story. “It's been an honor to share my thoughts on the most challenging time in our country's recent history and my experiences as an emergency physician,” said Austin.  

She will soon be leaving the Navy and plans to start a new position as an Emergency Medicine physician at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and also at the Veteran's Hospital in San Diego.  Austin currently lives in San Diego with her husband, Chris, and they’ve been married since 2012.  They have two beautiful dogs and enjoy spending time in their backyard.

Austin shared that she has very fond memories of her time at UNI, especially in the Honors Program.  She favored the smaller class sizes and opportunities to have meaningful discussions.  Her advice to students is to find an area of study and work that truly interests them.  Medical school and residency is very all encompassing, and through a love of medicine and now teaching, she is so fulfilled and thankful that she put the long hours in.

Tina Hansen Pickett

Tina Hansen Pickett served five years in the White House Office of Management and Budget, leading efforts related to Affordable Care Act implementation, women’s health, and healthcare quality and innovation, being responsible for a portfolio of over $11 billion in Federal funding. Since leaving DC, Tina has spent three years working to reform the Medicaid program in Brooklyn, New York. There, she has led efforts to design financially sustainable programs to transform care for Medicaid patients, emphasizing the importance of addressing the social determinants of health. Tina now leads the development of a new not-for-profit corporation that will contract with health insurance plans to support a network of high-quality providers and improve the lives of those who live in Brooklyn.

While at the University of Northern Iowa, Tina studied abroad in Austria, served as a Resident Assistant in Campbell Hall, was a member of the UNI Singers, participated in the Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society, and was highly involved in the UNI Honors Program. Tina held internships with the Black Hawk County Health Department and the Iowa Department of Public Health, and Tina’s undergraduate thesis focused on young adults and health insurance coverage.

Tina holds a biology degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University at Albany. In 2013, Tina received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from the University at Albany.

Kara PoppeKara Poppe, a 2015 graduate, used the exceptional education she received at UNI to create change on an international level. Poppe moved to Nyumbani Village in rural Kenya in the fall of 2015 as a Princeton in Africa Fellow. She worked tirelessly to coordinate and host volunteer groups from around the world while learning about Kenyan culture and getting to know its people. As a safe place for children and grandparents whose families have been tragically affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Nyumbani Village provides a home, healthcare and education to the hundreds of individuals they serve. Kara’s work helped to sustain this safe haven.

Kara learned many lessons in her first year post-graduation. These included learning how to communicate and collaborate with a multicultural staff and gaining the ability to adapt when things did not go according to plan. Additionally, she learned to recognize the beauty in the simple things in life, such as an occasional break from maize and beans due to the opening of a nearby pizza and ice cream shop!

Kara served in the Nyumbani Village until July 2016 and plans to enter the workforce in environmental or international education in the near future. 

Christian Junker

Christian Junker is a May 2014 graduate from UNI with a major in Athletic Training and a minor in Biology. During his time at UNI, Christian served as a Resident Assistant (RA) in Shull, and was later promoted to Senior Resident Assistant (SRA) in Dancer Hall. With his major, he often worked closely with UNI Athletics, which included spending his senior year assisting the Women’s Soccer Team. 

He put his creative talents to good use at UNI through his role in UNI Main Stage Performance: “URINETOWN: The Musical,” and through filming for UNI Athletics home games. Christian recently served as the Community Mobilization Intern for the Chennai Field Office of International Justice Mission (IJM)and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Arcadia.  

Christian will be heading to Nicaragua in March 2016 for a week to help lead a medical mission trip to a new area that is underserved medically. The Arcadia University PA Program and Global Brigades are partnering together for this medical service trip. He and his group are expecting to treat around 2000-2500 people in one week as well as promote public health initiatives. After this trip, Christian will begin his international rotation, providing healthcare to those most in need.

Christian described his time in the University Honors Program by saying that “the [program], which forces critical thought and educated opinions to be formed, allowed me the opportunity to really start to evaluate the world around me in a more analytical way; in a way that focused more on what was really happening, how I felt about it, and what I wanted to do about it – either to encourage or discourage a certain action.” This very analysis led him to his recent internship with IJM.

Jake RudyJake Rudy graduated in May 2011 from UNI with a dual degree in Political Science and Sociology. Through an active undergraduate career that included serving as the student body Vice President, Jake developed an interest in working in higher education. He attended graduate school at the University of Kansas, and graduated from the Higher Education Administration program in May 2013.

Since completing his graduate program, Jake has worked as an academic advisor at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He's come to enjoy life in Minneapolis, and much of that is due to the large contingent of UNI alumni in the area. He's since become more involved with the UNI Alumni Association, and enjoys connecting with other young alumni in the Twin Cities area.

Jake explains "the Honors Program at UNI was one of those experiences that I just can't imagine not having. The Honors Program shaped my entire time at UNI, and it has led to many close friendships and countless memories". 

Eva AndersenEva Andersen graduated in May 2011 from UNI with a major in Communication Studies: General Communication with the designation of University Honors.  Eva is currently completing an internship at The Colbert Report.  Eva says, “After my positive internship experiences at Z102.9 Radio in Cedar Rapids, Entertainment Tonight in Los Angeles, and The Colbert Report in NYC, I am excited and motivated to start a career in the entertainment industry.” 

After graduation, Eva planned to pursue her career as a comedic writer and performer and had an internship at Saturday Night Live.  She commented, “At UNI, my opportunity to strive for excellence was by participating in the Honors Program.  It took a 'normal' college experience and raised it to a higher, more intellectually stimulating level. The relationships I formed through the Honors Program have lasted from Freshman orientation to post-graduation.” 

For her honors thesis, Eva wrote, directed, and performed in a television pilot entitled “EVAluation: On Tanning” which used comedy to critically analyze discourse surrounding the cultural, social, historical, and political contexts regarding tanning beds.  The film won first place in the Student Short Film category at the 2011 Iowa Motion Picture Awards and was nominated as an official selection in the TV Pilot category at the Hoboken International Film Festival in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June.


Matt BriesMatt Bries graduated in May 2009 from UNI with a major in Business Management: Human Resources with the designation of University Honors with Distinction.  Currently Matt is a Supply Management Specialist at John Deere Waterloo Works.  Matt stated, “The Honors Program provided me with an exceptional opportunity to take my learning to a deeper level while exploring topics not available to the general student body.  Beyond the classroom, honors enhanced my self-confidence through hands-on leadership activities and provided me a vital network of friends and colleagues.”

Matt recently provided a lead gift to initiate the Honors Alumni Endowed Scholarship in recognition of the program's impact, saying that the Honors Program helped to give him the leadership, confidence, and skill-set necessary to build a successful foundation for his career with John Deere.  Matt concluded by saying, “Honors not only helped me learn throughout my time at UNI, but more importantly taught me how to learn.” 

Read more about Matt's gift and how you can join the effort.