Published on November 2, 2023 by Diamond Nunnally  
Holland Andrews (left) and Abby Highsmith (right)
Holland Andrews (left) and Abby Highsmith (right)

Howard College of Arts and Sciences Department of Geography and Sociology students' hard work paid off at the annual Mid-South Sociological Conference in New Orleans on Oct. 12-14. Sociology senior Abby Highsmith placed first, and junior Holland Andrews placed second in the undergraduate research competition.  

"A lot of hard work went into this paper," Highsmith said. "Being able to present my research and win this award made it all worth it." 

"I was honestly surprised but excited," Andrews said. "I put a lot of effort into this paper, and to know others thought so, too, is very encouraging."  

Highsmith's research paper How Religiosity and Geography Impact Attitudes on Divorce found a correlation between a person's religious beliefs, geographical location and perspectives on divorce.  

Highsmith said, "I focused on highly religious people who lived in southern and rural areas and found there was a direct impact on people's attitudes towards divorce based on these factors.” 

Andrews tried to answer a different question with his paper The Impact of Age and Social Media Use on a Person's Overall Happiness. She analyzed social media's impacts on the overall happiness and well-being of people based on age.  

"I wanted to see if social media benefited older generations' ability to develop connections due to their lack of social relationships as they age,” she explained.  

“Abby and Holland did fantastic,” Geography and Sociology professor Theresa Davidson said. “They were impressive, and their projects generated lots of questions and discussion from the audience. It’s clear their research made an impression. We’re so proud their hard work and skill were recognized by the undergraduate research committee of the Mid-South Sociological Association. They represented Samford very well.” 

Highsmith and Andrews credited Davidson for their success.  

"She helped me a lot through this process," Andrews said. "Dr. Davidson helped me calculate my data as well as encouraged me to believe I was capable of doing something at this level." 

Highsmith agreed, " She helped me feel more confident, ultimately making me much more successful at the conference." 

“It’s exciting and rewarding to see students do more than they thought they were capable of,” Davidson said. “I recognize it’s quite a task to complete a full research paper with quantitative analysis of data, but it’s an even bigger ask for them to present that research at a professional conference.” 

The Mid-South Sociological Conference “provides members the opportunity to network with other professionals, introduce students to the broader professional community and, most importantly, share and discuss current efforts in sociological research." 

"It was exciting to hear about all of the research happening in the field throughout the region," Highsmith said. "I learned a lot of new things and met a lot of people who share similar interests as me." 

After graduation, Andrews plans to get her master's in social work with the goal of becoming a marriage and family counselor. Highsmith, on the other hand, aspires to be an urban planner for a city or nonprofit to preserve and promote urban living. Their objective for participating in this conference is to network with professionals and gain valuable insights into their prospective career paths. 

"I participated because I wanted to gain experience in presenting at a professional level and see what options await my future,” Andrews said.  

“Our department prioritizes undergraduate research and sending our best students to professional conferences to compete and receive feedback on their work,” Geography and Sociology chair Jennifer Speights-Binet said. “Consistently, in both geography and sociology, we are bringing awards back to Samford every year.  Dr. Davidson is an excellent mentor for students doing research and asking hard questions about the society in which we live. Abby and Holland are wonderful examples of the academic excellence and student engagement that Samford promotes and celebrates across the university.” 


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.