At a Glance

Year: '25
Major: Criminal Justice
Activities: Immersive Scholar, Honors College

Criminal Justice BA

As a criminal justice major, you will deepen your understanding of crime-related issues and criminal justice systems and policies, and will learn to apply this knowledge to address social problems.

At first, criminal justice major Daniela Peña thought of research as a practical means to an end.
Even before she started at UMass Lowell, she figured she might earn a master’s degree, and she knew that research skills would be required. So she accepted an invitation to join the Honors College after hearing about its programs to connect students with faculty for research, culminating in a senior year honors thesis.
“Honestly, the honors thesis is what motivated me to say, ‘OK, I’ll embark on this journey of honors,’” she says.
But Peña fell in love with research during her first year. Now, she plans on earning a master’s degree in security studies at UML before applying to Ph.D. programs and embarking on a research career. 
A stellar student at Lawrence High School, where she spent her junior and senior years after mostly growing up in the Dominican Republic, Peña signed up for a one-credit career exploration class in her first semester at UML. She originally planned on majoring in political science and becoming a lawyer, but found herself more interested in the criminal justice classes. 
Through a career exploration assignment, she met Prof. April Pattavina (now chair of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies), who offered her a job as a paid research assistant. Peña helped Pattavina analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic affected sentencing and incarceration in Italy.
“She took a pretty big leap of faith and hired me spring semester of freshman year, but I think it worked out,” says Peña, modestly, “because she hired me that summer to do some (English-Spanish) translations of surveys in correctional facilities and some data entry.”
From then on, Peña was hooked on research. 
She used a $4,000 Immersive Scholarship to spend her sophomore year assisting Assoc. Prof. Claire Lee on several research projects: how terrorist groups use the internet to recruit supporters and plan attacks; cyberstalking within personal relationships; and racist attacks on Asian Americans after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee also paid Peña to stay on for the summer and fall of 2023.
In spring of 2024, Peña found a new research assistantship with Asst. Prof. Emily Greene-Colozzi, who has a three-year, $985,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice to analyze whether state “red flag” laws are effective in reducing mass shootings. Such laws aim to prevent people in a mental health crisis from accessing guns.
Peña can’t say enough about the value of getting research experience early in her undergraduate years.
“The things I learn in class I apply to the research I’m doing, and the things I’ve learned in the training sessions for the research have prepared me for work in my classes,” she says.
Now, Peña is ready to do original research. Her project, a comparative study of how different anti-abortion groups use violence, was inspired by a graduate class she enrolled in as part of the bachelor’s-to-master’s program: Domestic Terrorism and Violent Extremism, with Prof. Arie Perliger.
She’s also getting teaching and public speaking experience – which will help her become a researcher or professor someday – by working another job as a “digital navigator” under a $4 million state grant to UML to promote digital equity in Lowell, Haverhill and Fitchburg. 
Peña, who has a minor in English, uses her ease with two languages to teach basic computer skills to adults at the Lowell YWCA and recent immigrants studying English in the Lowell Public Schools’ adult education center. 
“When I look at them, I see people I know: my mom, my family, my community,” says Peña, who commutes to campus by bus from her family home in Lawrence, Massachusetts. “So if I can make their lives a little bit better teaching them something new, I’m happy to.”

Advice for new students

Daniela Pena.

"Get research or professional experience in your area of study early on."