Matt Smith-Lahrman’s dedication to sociology, teaching, rock ‘n’ roll leaves lasting impact

Dr. Matt Smith-Lahrman, a professor of sociology, looks through transcribed interviews he had for the book he wrote. Dr. Smith-Lahrman believes that if you get involved with students, then students will get involved in the class. Miki Akiyama | Sun News Daily

Share This:

Utah Tech University has been through many name changes since its creation in 1911. One professor at the university has been able to witness many of the name changes as he has taught at the university for over 25 years. 

Professor of Sociology Matt Smith-Lahrman was the only sociology professor for his first 17 years of teaching at the university. Within that time, he was able to build the applied sociology program and get it to be its own bachelor’s degree program. 

“Matt does all of the heavy lifting for the applied sociology program, so he’s kind of the OG of the department,” said Lish Harris, the department chair of applied sociology and criminal justice. “All of the sociology majors and all the applied sociology graduates over the last handful of years owe a lot to Matt and what he’s been able to build in that program.”

Lahrman’s interest in sociology started way before he got to St. George. It started when he was in high school and read a book by Jane Goodall called “In the Shadow of Man.” The book taught about the study of chimpanzees in the context of human behavior, and Lahrman said he thought it would be interesting to study humans in the way Goodall studied animals. 

He took his interest to the University of San Diego in the early ’80s and majored in anthropology. Shortly after, he transferred to Northern Arizona University and took Introduction to Sociology, which changed his mind and major to sociology. 

After hard work and dedication to the field of study, Lahrman left NAU with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in sociology. He then went on to Northwestern University in Chicago to get his Ph.D. After his schooling, he was offered a job at Utah Tech in 1998.

“I like teaching sociology here because I think it’s a great age, in the sense that I get to teach young adults,” Lahrman said. “They’re on their own for the first time, and most people have no idea what sociology is when they get here. I’m introducing them to a whole new way of thinking about the world, and I get a blast out of that.”

Not only is Lahrman able to impact his sociology students, but he also gets to impact others around campus through his knowledge, positive attitude and sense of humor.

“He always seems to have students’ best interests kind of at the front of his mind,” Harris said. “I think that the students that are not just in his program but campus-wide really benefit from faculty members like him.”

Westley Trease, a junior psychology major from St. George, said he appreciates many of Lahrman’s qualities, particularly noting him as a “comedic genius” who injects humor into his classroom. He also enjoys Lahrman’s teaching style as his lessons are directly applicable to his students’ lives.

“He is engaged, and I know he is concerned about my experience as a student,” Trease said. “He is a major influence for me…I’ve enjoyed exploring his world through the lens of sociology.” 

As for his teaching style, Harris noted that his earliest memory of Lahrman included seeing him lecturing one of his classes while riding down in between the desks on a skateboard, which Harris thought was very admirable and entertaining of a professor. 

Part of this laid-back way of teaching comes from his love for rock ‘n’ roll, which caught his attention back when he was in fourth grade and received a KISS record from his mom. Since then, he has collected many rock records, wrote his Doctor of Philosophy dissertation on rock music in Chicago, and created a book on a rock band called “The Meat Puppets and the Lyrics of Curt Kirkwood from Meat Puppets II to No Joke!” He also teaches Sociology of Rock Music at Utah Tech.  

“Rock music feels good, and it feels right,” Lahrman said. “I like that mixture of poetry with the music, and I like that it’s countercultural. It’s an avenue for people to challenge your parents’ generation, challenge politics, challenge race, challenge all sorts of things.”

What inspired him to write a 294-page book that took him about ten years to write was his favorite band, the Meat Puppets. To help in the completion of his dissertation, he reached out to the members of the band for an interview and was successful in his request. 

Lahrman said after completing his dissertation, he wanted to continue learning more about the band. He said, “So just for fun, almost just like journaling, I started going through every album and the lyrics on each of the albums and CDs, and I started analyzing the lyrics.” 

Through his analysis, he has received feedback on his book including a Kindle customer who said, “This is the greatest book ever written about the lyrics of Curt Kirkwood! No competition!”

With his love for sociology, dedication to teaching and passion for rock ‘n’ roll, Professor Lahrman hopes to continue impacting students and fostering an active learning environment for many years to come.