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Dr. Michael Schulman: A Legacy in the Making

Some professors simply teach, while others leave behind legacies. Dr. Michael Schulman holds many titles at NC State University, including William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.  In 2017, he was recognized as an Outstanding Graduate Student Faculty Mentor by the NC State Graduate School!  Dr. Schulman’s role at NC State is conducting basic and applied research in Rural Sociology.  His research centers on investigating changes in rural communities and the impacts of changes in the structure of agriculture on the well-being of farm enterprises and households.  He also mentors faculty colleagues, graduate and undergraduate students, and postdoctoral students.  

Dr. Schulman came to NC State in 1977, “prior to liquor by the drink in North Carolina and before you could buy a fresh bagel in Raleigh!” as he puts it. Before coming to the university, he was a temporary instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, after completing his doctorate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975. Upon his arrival at NC State, his first departmental home was in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, which at that time had faculty with appointments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS).  In 2012-2013, a decision was made by higher administration to eliminate the CALS positions in the sociology program, therefore forcing Dr. Schulman to make some career choices.  Since he wanted to stay a CALS faculty member, he decided to move to the Agricultural and Human Sciences (AHS) department because of its emphasis on applied research and engagement. Dr. Schulman also felt that the research that he was doing on youth work and injury would find an appropriate home in the AHS Department. 

Dr. Michael Schulman, childhood obesity researcher at NC State's CALS.
Dr. Michael Schulman

Dr. Schulman reflects on his time in CALS, stating “AHS has been very supportive of my research and professional activity.”  Being a past editor of Rural Sociology, the department provided support for the editorial office and his work there.  AHS has also been encouraging of his 20+ years of work with the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center.  Not only has the department been supportive in his career, but also his family and personal life.  “I found the personal and professional support provided to me by my AHS colleagues during my late spouse’s illness very comforting during an especially difficult time period.”  Many professors would agree with Dr. Schulman in saying AHS isn’t just a place to work, it’s home. 

Dr. Schulman is currently engaged in 3 research projects.  One is a collaborative project with the Rural Advancement Fund International USA, the NC Agromedicine Institute, and several other non-profit organizations.  Together, they interviewed low-income/socially disadvantaged farmers in NC, SC, and VA about their experiences of financial and emotional distress.  Dr. Schulman worked with Dr. Andrew Smolski to create an overview report of their findings.  They recently gave a webinar based on these findings titled: “Surviving Financial and Emotional Distress: Black Farmer Livelihood Strategies“ on November 9th for the Marshfield Clinic/National Farm Medicine Center.  This webinar was based on their research with Black farmers. The summary report on navigating financial and emotional distress (RAFI project) is also available on the web through the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Additionally, Dr. Schulman has a subcontract with the University of Tennessee Farm and Ranch Stress Assistant Network-South (USDA/NIFA) to fund a post-doc researcher (Dr. Andrew Smolski) to coordinate the Southern Agriculture Exchange (SAGE) Applied Research Network-South and to develop info-sheets and other applied products from their research on farm stress.  Thirdly, Dr. Schulman is working with two undergraduates who participated in the ASPIRE-Intern program (CEFS) over the last two summers. Their research has yielded a set of interviews with small-scale/niche-meat producers in North Carolina that are being analyzed to understand farmer’s resilience and adaptation to COVID.  Dr. Schulman’s past research has included studies of changes in rural textile communities, the decline of Black farmers, the impact of the farm crisis on farm households, and a series of studies on occupational injury among youth workers.  Clearly, Dr. Schulman is a passionate researcher in his field.  

For those interested in or seeking employment, Dr. Schulman offers some experience-based and quality advice.  First, he says to learn to accept criticism and learn to give constructive criticism.  Second, be open to new ideas and read a wide variety of topics, including journal articles and books authored by scholars who are outside of your immediate discipline.   For those needing advice in the job market, interdisciplinary work, and the ability to demonstrate skills in basic and applied research, are of increased value and should be prioritized.   Evidence of successful engagement with community stakeholders and organizations is an asset that one should try to add to one’s resume. Completing workshops and seminars related to teaching, diversity and inclusion, writing, and working as a team member are also positive indicators of professional development.

Dr. Schulman is a great leader within the AHS department, guiding and implementing research to help farmers address stress and conducting research in youth work.  Although Dr. Schulman does not associate much with social media, saying “I go back to punch cards with computers: I am a major klutz when it comes to social media!,” you can follow up and read more about Dr. Schulman’s work on his faculty profile.