ASU grad to use sociology in music career

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

As a choral director and musician for 24 years, Cary Burns knows all about dynamics — especially group dynamics. 

His journey to sociology began when a musical organization he was in, which had been all-male since 1938, decided to open its membership to anyone. Naturally, some members were resistant to this change, but Burns felt compelled to encourage the group to embrace all kinds of people. 

As the group navigated this transition, Burns became increasingly interested in using his influence to promote inclusivity and create community. This passion was energized every time he met a person who felt excluded or marginalized. 

Throughout this process, Burns realized he wanted to educate himself on the science behind individual and group dynamics. Sociology was the obvious choice. 

Burns decided to study at ASU, prompted by professors he knew and family members who had also attended ASU. After graduation, he is looking forward to using his knowledge of social structures to become a better music educator and community member. 

We caught up with Burns to learn more about his journey and what he took away from his time as an online sociology student with the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I learned to question everything.  Most things are not as they seem. Although history was not one of my favorite subjects, it certainly is now. Learning the history behind the important social issues of today brings clarity to the root causes and provides insight. Now I realize that so many of our institutions and structures are socially constructed. Questioning the status quo and learning how we arrived at certain norms will arm me with the knowledge to become a better ally and advocate.  

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Although I had many professors who taught me important lessons, Dr. Jenn Haskin and Dr. Kari Visconti were especially helpful and encouraging. Dr. Haskin taught me how to learn more effectively. I took several classes with her and her innovative way of grading and structuring her classes took stress out of the equation. This allowed me to immerse myself in the learning materials and enjoy the learning process. In online classes, one can feel disconnected. Dr. Visconti has a way of being extremely encouraging and motivating while still holding students to a high standard. She is always willing to help and guide. I feel I’ve learned skills in her class that will serve me in the future. It is the way Drs. Haskin and Visconti teach and communicate that I will remember most. They wanted to see me succeed. Since education and instruction is part of my current business, I will leverage the skills that Drs. Haskin and Visconti shared to better myself as an educator.   

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Put a priority on gaining knowledge and perspective rather than merely regurgitating facts for assignments and exams. Don’t just get through school. College might be the last time that one has access to such a wide variety of subjects. Learn, explore and enjoy the process.   

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My office is my place to escape and focus on my schoolwork. I live at the base of a mountain in a secluded neighborhood and my office is quiet and serene with a great view. There is little traffic and there are birds and rabbits who come by my window often. It is definitely my happy place.  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I am going to explore my community in search of places where I can make a difference in people's lives. I will retain my music business, which I love, but I also want to find other opportunities to serve people in my community. I will likely start out by volunteering and getting involved with community organizations and see where the paths lead.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Starvation and food insecurity. Our global food system is not working. There are people who are unsure where their next meal will come from or starving and we have the resources to keep that from happening. Supply chains are long and convoluted, and food is wasted at every stage in the process. Of course, $40 million would not put a dent in world hunger, but I would use the money to create a sustainable local food model that could be replicated elsewhere, especially in areas of low income and poverty.  

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