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Criminal Justice Majors Changing Minds and Career Plans

Diverse Faculty, Unique Programs Inspire Students

CJ major Sarah Herrick outside Allen House Photo by Tory Germann
Criminal justice major Sarah Herrick in her favorite spot on campus, outside Allen House.

06/07/2016
By Katharine Webster

Criminal justice major Sarah Herrick ’16 was all fired up to work in counterterrorism when she arrived on campus as a sophomore transfer student.

Then she took a class on terrorism with Neil Shortland, program manager with the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies (CTSS), who emphasized the importance of understanding the mindset and motivations of terrorists when crafting effective counterterrorism strategies. Herrick, who has always had deep empathy for victims, found her sympathies pulled in two directions – and changed her mind about her future career.

She began exploring other options. She took a class on intimate partner violence, taught by a former sex crimes investigator, and another on community corrections. She changed her concentration from homeland security to violence and added a minor in sociology. She collaborated on research with faculty members Kelly Socia and Melissa Morabito as an Emerging Scholar, got two service-learning internships at community agencies and volunteered at nonprofits for troubled children and families.

A newly minted graduate, Herrick plans to get a master’s degree, but first she’s working as a counselor at a residential facility for troubled teenage girls. She’s grateful the criminal justice faculty encouraged her to think critically and explore her interests.

“I really liked that there were different class options. Even in concentrations, you’re not locked in – you have a couple of required classes and then you can go hog-wild,” she says. “The advisers were really incredible. They let me go where I needed to go.”

Like Herrick, lots of criminal justice students arrive on campus bent on careers as police officers, federal agents or corrections officials. Many stick with those goals, but others change their minds, getting more interested in research, policy or social factors that contribute to crime. 

Under Chairwoman Eve Buzawa, who retired last month, the School of Criminology and Justice Studies has grown its traditional offerings and developed unique specialties, building clusters of faculty with common research interests who invite students to broaden their perspectives and then drill down. 

Two distinctive areas of expertise are sexual violence policy and terrorism, says Andrew Harris, associate dean for research and graduate programs of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Another is the intersection between crime and mental illness. 

The department recently added a new undergraduate concentration in crime and mental health and several Ph.D. students are pursuing research in that area. Faculty include Lecturer Cathy Levey, a psychologist who worked in mental health services in the Connecticut prisons for two decades, and Prof. William Fisher (now emeritus), a leading researcher on the mental health and criminal justice systems – and how deficits in one lead to problems in the other.

Kailyn MacNeil of Westford, a rising junior, chose the new concentration and is double-majoring in psychology, while minoring in legal studies. Although unsure whether she wants to be a victim advocate, detective or lawyer, she’s long been fascinated with criminal behavior because her father is a detective in Watertown – and was involved in the hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers. Now she’s learning more about the mental health needs of people involved in the justice system.

“Doing criminal justice, which I love, and psychology, so I can understand the mind and why people think and act the way they do – that’s the perfect combination,” MacNeil says.
 
Kevin Copson and colleagues at Weave Visual Analytics Photo by Tory Germann
Kevin Copson, left, and his colleagues at Weave Visual Analytics.
Kevin Copson ’12, ’16 started out in the policing concentration, with aspirations to become a lawyer. But his professors awakened and encouraged a passion for public policy.

“I got interested in economics and policy as a way to solve the issues that end up increasing crime rates,” he says. “Faculty and staff were so down-to-earth and willing to help. I can’t tell you the number of professors I’ve had who talked to me for one, two, three hours after class because I still had more questions.”

Copson went on to earn his M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies with a policy analysis focus and is now working for a startup that’s developing Weave: open-source, data visualization software created at the university and used by social scientists, government agencies and nonprofits to do research and evaluate policy.
 
Graduate students Rimonda Maroun and Kyleigh Davis Photo by Meghan Moore
Graduate students Rimonda Maroun, left, and Kyleigh Clark at the 2016 Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium.
Even graduate students have some flexibility.
 
Doctoral student Rimonda Maroun wanted to be an FBI agent when she began college at St. Anselm. She gradually became more interested in research, but still didn’t have a focus when she started graduate school here. She worked with different faculty members and found her passion on a project with Assoc. Prof. Kareem Jordan: juvenile justice and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“What’s really great about the criminal justice program is the diversity of the faculty research,” Maroun says. “Everyone is doing something different and everyone is really open to talking to you about their research. It helped me formulate who I am as a researcher.”