Redefining the Classroom

Senior Research

The Criminal Justice Program requires undergraduate students engaging in primary field research to complete their Senior Seminar capstone course.

As part of the program, Criminal Justice students will present a senior thesis. An academic challenge such as this, is not available to an undergraduate student at many other colleges and universities. Students have found that preparing their thesis also helped them narrow down their career focus and allowed them to be better prepared for job placement opportunities.

As part of the academic requirements, senior internship (typically taken during the summer between the junior and senior years) is also an important asset to future employment success. Our students often are able to intern with law enforcement agencies that they wish to work for. A few have had unique opportunities such as county marine patrol, Customs and Immigration, the court system, prosecutor's offices and the like.

Researching Opinions of Crime in different Age Groups

Kayla White is a senior working toward a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. White's research is being supervised by Dr. Frank Tridico. White is applying a sophisticated model of three competing criminological theories, with four samples and four hypotheses.

The purpose of her study is to identify the perceived opinions of the causations of crime in different age groups in the United States as well as Canada in relation to the three selected criminological theories: Rational Choice Theory, Social Disorganization Theory, and Social Learning Theory.

White argues that Rational Choice Theory, when applied to crime commitment, emphasizes that individuals, when properly motivated, will behave criminally because the utility of rewards from crime (weighted by the probability of obtaining the reward) outweighs the utility of costs (weighted by the probability of being caught).

White states, "Many people in northern Michigan, as well as northern Ontario, have experienced difficult economic fluctuations, high unemployment, and cost of living increases. This could be a contributing factor in why people are motivated to committing crime."

In contrast to Rational Choice Theory, the theories Social Disorganization and Social Learning Theory are Social Process Theories used as alternative explanations of the causation of crime.

White believes that the findings from this study could help determine why people feel the need to commit a crime, and what possible actions can be taken to limit these contributing factors.

She believes the narrowed foci of the theoretical tenets will assist in creating questions that will test for consistency, strength of relationships, and applicability. Moreover, having four samples and four hypotheses will provide unique findings that could be used for future studies to branch off of the current one.

White contends that research objectives, through controlling for demographic variables, provide additional insight in determining whether numbers can be misleading. White suggests that demographic variables allow for important comparative analyses to be examined by identifying unique patterns and characteristics that may not be identifiable with the original data.

She wants to examine whether the variables of gender, political affiliation, education, and marital status play any factor in strengths of relationships.

"To me, it wouldn't be enough to only prove my hypotheses," states White. "Controlling for demographic variables allows the researcher to view social phenomena from different angles. This is especially important if sample sizes are small."
White believes that the organized structure of theory has helped her create a more sophisticated model that is so focused and organized, future studies would only have to enlarge the samples to arrive at more generalizable data.

"There are limited studies conducted in areas that contain samples from more than one country, i.e. border cities, making the need for them even more important," states White.

"There are many individuals living in one country and working in the one it borders. There are also many individuals in the Criminal Justice System pursuing careers in foreign countries. Providing a contribution to knowledge in this area is important because the field of Criminal Justice warrants that those within it should truly understand the causes of crime, not just how to address it. Causes of crime vary from country to country. The unique characteristics of border cities have to be taken into consideration when trying to assess social phenomena."  White believes that a study's findings are validated by the sophistication of the research design model. "To some, social research isn't considered a science, but it is," states White. "And it needs to be treated as such."

Researching Perceived Opinions of Illegal Substance Abuse

Benjamin Eckola is applying a sophisticated model of three competing criminological theories, with three samples and three hypotheses.

The purpose of his study is to identify the perceived opinions of the causations of illegal substance abuse in rural America in relation to the three selected criminological theories: Rational Choice Theory, Social Strain Theory and General Theory of Crime.

Eckola argues that Social Strain Theory when applied to substance abuse emphasizes that individuals who do not have access to goals or legitimate ways of obtaining those goals in their life such as going to college/university, obtaining employment, etc. will make the person more inclined to use illegal drugs.

Eckola states, "People in rural America, and especially in northern Michigan, have experienced difficult economic fluctuations, high unemployment, and cost of living increases.  This could be a contributing factor in why people initially turn to using illegal drugs or in committing drug-related crimes."

In contrast to Social Strain Theory, the theories of Rational Choice and General Theory of Crime are used as alternative explanations of the causation of substance abuse.

Eckola believes that the findings from this study could help determine what causes people to turn to using Illegal drugs, and what possible actions may be taken by community officials to limit these contributing factors.

He believes the narrowed foci of theoretical tenets will assist in creating questions that will test for consistency, strength of relationships, and applicability.  Moreover, having three samples and three hypotheses will provide unique findings that could be used to have future studies branch off of the current one.

Eckola suggests that the approach used in the Statistics and Senior Seminar courses have allowed for other areas to be considered as tests for validity.

 He contends that research objectives, through controlling for demographic variables, provides additional insight in determining whether numbers can be misleading.  Eckola suggests that samples are in and of themselves comprised of ‘faceless subjects' but demographic variables allow for important comparative analyses to be examined identifying unique patterns and characteristics that could otherwise go undetected.

Eckola wants to examine whether the variables of gender, education, employment status, and age play any factor in strengths of relationships.

"It wouldn't be enough to only prove hypotheses," stated Eckola.  "Controlling for demographic variables allows the researcher to view social phenomena from different angles, to look for patterns and findings that exist beneath the surface.  This is important to do for all sample sizes, but crucial if sample sizes are small."

Eckola believes the organized structure of theory has helped him create a more sophisticated model and approach that can serve as microcosm to a larger study.

"There are limited studies conducted in rural or northern areas, making the need for them even more important," stated Eckola.  "Providing a contribution to knowledge in this area is important because the field of Criminal Justice necessitates that practitioners within in truly understand the causes of crime, not only how they address it.  The unique characteristics of rural and northern areas have to be taken in consideration when trying to assess social phenomena."

 Eckola believes that a study's findings are validated by the sophistication of the research design model.  "Social research is a science," stated Eckola.  "And it has to be treated as such."