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What is a criminologist and why did you become one?

A criminologist is a person who studies the impact crime has on society. We do this by looking at the potential causes and effects, patterns and possible predictability and solvability factors. In addition, a criminologist studies the people who commit criminal acts, trying to understand the who and the why.

I didn’t decide to become a criminologist…. It just happened. I have always been obsessed with puzzles. I am observant and extraordinarily inquisitive. To this day, I ask question after question because I honestly do want to learn things outside of my own comfort zone. I guess it is a good thing that I am a “people” person because that has given me the ability to ask questions most people wouldn’t dare because my sincerity comes through.

My interest in crime started with the first real crime I can remember, the murder of Mary Perrine outside of Dayton, Ohio in 1985.  Mary was abducted from our local mall by an 18 year old male, Augustus Williams. From that point, our parents would talk with us about looking under the car before we got close to it and got in. As kids, we were concerned that someone would grab you by the leg and then force you into the car. Growing up in a small, close-knit community where these things “didn’t happen” this made a big impression on me. I just didn’t understand how or why someone would want to harm, let alone kill someone they did not know.

What are some of your favorite hands on lessons?

Hmm, for single lessons I would have to include the awareness exercises that I put my students through. Awareness or lack of is a major theme in criminal justice. Most people are aware that it is discussed when it comes to the validity and reliability of eyewitness testimony. People are notoriously unaware of their surroundings. We get so wrapped up in our own “world” that we do not observe much of what goes on around us. To demonstrate this point, I will ask a student to leave the classroom and then ask the other students to describe that person in detail. On the next occasion, instead of asking the class about the person who has left, I will have the class change things within the room and then ask the student who returns what is now different. At the beginning of the term the students are a complete disaster but by the end of the term, I have made my point.

My favorite, hands on test would be the practical that I give for my Criminal Investigations course. Why would I give them a paper to write or an exam to fill out when I have an amazing Tactical Building that I can arrange to mimic any kind of structure (residence, office building, multi-family) and then stage a crime scene in it? I then stand on the second floor observation walkways and look down on the students and evaluate their behavior, comments and critical thinking when it comes to a criminal investigation (keeping in mind these are academic students NOT law enforcement recruits).  

Why did you decide to teach instead of going into law enforcement or the judicial system?

I didn’t exactly decide to work in higher education, it just sort of happened. When I was in high school I fully intended to go into the medical profession. I wanted to be a pathologist but I allowed someone to talk me out of it by scaring me about how much it would cost and how long I would be in school. Sadly, all of these years later, I have spent a nice chunk of change on my education and realize that I still spent a decade in school…. The lesson learned and shared with you: Do NOT let others impact your decision about what you want to do with your life. Be you and follow your dream.

With that being said, I could not be happier with where I have ended up. I naturally love to teach because it allows me to share what I know and love with others and at the same time learn from them. Working in higher education also allows for academic freedom which means, that although I have required material that needs to be covered I have the privilege to be able to cover it in the manner I choose. I am a big proponent of experiential learning so my students are exposed to the concept of “hands on” learning. I believe in teaching outside of the box which often means ditch the book, get out of the classroom and get your hands dirty!