Dr. Jacob Felson Follows his Passion Into Lengthy Higher Education Career

It took William Paterson University (WP) Department of Sociology and Criminology Chair Dr. Jacob Felson a while to find his true calling in life. But, once he did, he never looked back.

“I tried a number of majors in college,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I took some time off. Then, I responded to an ad that said I could learn the SPSS statistical software program and work for a survey research firm.

“I liked it and worked there for about a year. After that, I decided the major most consistent with that role was sociology.”

While earning a Ph.D. in Sociology at Penn State University, Dr. Felson found an untapped passion for education.

“I didn’t teach for the first time until I was a grad student,” he said. “I was very passionate about the subject matter, so teaching was a natural offshoot of that.

“My main thing is teaching data analysis and statistics. I got into that while at Penn State. I like creating statistics and data analysis demonstrations a lot. That’s continued to the present day.”

Dr. Felson came to William Paterson as a full-time instructor in 2007. He became an assistant professor, then an associate professor and then the department chair seven years ago.

“It’s been my first and only adult job,” he said. “I liked that idea that a professor has a lot of autonomy and can do a great range of things.

“At a survey research firm, you’re going to do what the client wants you to do. Your subject matter is determined for you. There is creativity within that, but you can’t decide what the project is. As a professor, you can.”

Pioneer Days

Dr. Felson is from Albany, New York, where his father, Richard, worked in sociology and an uncle worked in criminology.

“I knew about the field because of that, but that’s not the reason I got into it,” he said. “I was trying to get away from what my dad was doing. Then, I ended up coming back to it.

“The alternative was working for a survey research firm. When I was doing that, I thought that if I wasn’t going to go for a Ph.D., I would probably go back and work for them.”

Instead, Dr. Felson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago in 2001 and then transitioned to Penn State University to continue his higher education.

“I have been department chair for a while now,” he said. “One of the most exciting things has been to bring on new people and see their careers flourish and shape the department over the years.

“It’s been gratifying to see people we wanted to come in and accept the position and have them as colleagues in the department.”

Plus, Dr. Felson still teaches courses titled Data Analysis, Research Methods, Internship in Criminal Justice and Essentials of Criminal Justice in the online Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice and online Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice — Accelerated Professional Track programs.

“One of my favorite things about teaching is having students do projects with their own data they find on a topic of interest,” he said. “I like it best when they find an interesting dataset I have never seen before.

“We figure out a way to analyze it. Some of those examples are archived to have for future students. That’s a great feeling.”

Pawn Star

Dr. Felson looks forward to leading the Department of Sociology and Criminology at WP into the future as the world changes every day.

“The criminal justice program didn’t exist when I came on as a professor,” he said. “It was created before I was chair. While I was chair, it grew.

“It hit a peak a couple of years before the pandemic. Our enrollments have tracked with overall college enrollments, which have fallen in recent years in the northeast.”

Along with his regular duties, Dr. Felson enjoys the research component of his position, which includes writing for academic journals.

“Recently, I did something for the Nature Conservancy, which manages parks in New Jersey, including one right next to our university,” he said. “They are looking to boost visitation and compare it to other parks in the state. I look forward to more projects like that. I like figuring out ways to address data-related questions.”

Dr. Felson, who enjoys playing chess in his free time, is glad to find his niche as a college professor and researcher at William Paterson University. It might be the only adult job he ever has, provided he doesn’t become a professional chess player.

“My position is a mix of teaching, research and service,” he said. “It’s a greater range than doing survey research. That appealed to me when I started, and it still does.”

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online undergraduate programs.

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