Bridging Lessons between U.S and Europe

Ph.D. Student Pierre RivoltaPierre Rivolta grew up in France, got his bachelor and master’s degrees in Switzerland and is pursuing his Ph.D. degree at Sam Houston State University in Texas.

“I really love it here,” said Rivolta. “I found myself really integrated. I enjoy being a different outlet of information on the criminal justice system.”

Rivolta began his career at SHSU as an exchange student after meeting Dr. Jurg Gerber when the faculty member served as a visiting professor teaching a class on white collar crime and organized crime at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. While at Sam Houston State, Rivolta met several doctoral students and became interested in the program.

“Sam Houston had a lot to offer,” Rivolta said. “Sam Houston is very famous for criminal justice.”

Rivolta grew up wanting to be a police officer, but his father thought the profession was too dangerous. He wanted him to be an engineer. When the CSI television series debuted in France in the early 2000s, Rivolta, who grew up in Douvaine in the French Alps, decided to pursue a degree in forensic science. The only French-language institution offering the degree in Europe was the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, which happened to be across Lake Geneva from his home in France.

After a month-long internship at the Crime Scene Investigation Unit at the Geneva Police Department, where he weighed drug samples, went to crime scenes, attended autopsies and updated databases, he realized he could not single-handedly solve crimes, like the investigators on CSI. He wanted to have more of an impact.

“You only have a piece of the puzzle,” Rivolta said. “You are contributing, but you’re not the person solving the crime. The micro level was not enough. I wanted to work in the macro level to find out the reason why people commit crimes.”

In the second year of his Masters Program in Switzerland, Rivolta came to the United States, which was a real culture shock. Not only did he not know the language well, he was taken aback by the vast size and fast-paced nature of Texas.

“Texas is larger than France,” Rivolta said. “In France, we usually walk, ride a bike or take a bus. Here there are no buses, unless you want to take a Greyhound….It was challenging overcoming the language barrier. As a Ph.D. student, you not only had to take class, you had to be able to express yourself orally and in writing in a scholarly manner.”

A year after starting the program, Rivolta began teaching undergraduate classes. To date, he has taught Criminology, Introduction to Methods of Research, Professionalism and Ethics in Criminal Justice, Substance Use and Abuse, and Understanding Human Behavior.

“I love teaching,” Rivolta said. “I love the contact with students in the classroom and learning from students.”

Rivolta can explain firsthand the differences in the criminal justice system in the U.S. and Europe. In France and Switzerland, the government doesn’t put as much money into the system and there is less conflict between cultures. “In France, you don’t need to get a Criminal Justice degree to get a job as a correction officer or police officer. In fact, very few colleges offer degrees in CJ.”

“Criminal justice in America is big business,” said Rivolta. “It is an important part of the society. People are aware of crime, and crime is very prevalent in the media.”

Rivolta began with his research pursuit with broad interest, including homicide, drugs and drug policy, but he has narrowed his focus to problem-solving courts and diversion programs. His dissertation is on “Evaluation of a Pre-trial Intervention for First-time DWI Offenders.”

“I think we can make a difference here,” said Rivolta. “It is a place where justice is not adversarial, where it is about making lasting change for offenders without using the full force of the criminal justice system. If we use these programs to divert people who are low-risk, low-needs offenders, it can results in more good than harm in the long run.”

Rivolta has worked closely with Dr. Janet Mullings on his project.

Rivolta has advice for his fellow students at SHSU.

“Everything is possible if you put hard work into it,” Rivolta said. “You can achieve anything. If God is on your side and you are on His, you can be open to everything and everything can happen.”

Rivolta urged exchange student to embrace American friends and for American students to pursue foreign born doctoral teaching fellows.

“We have a lot to learn from our diversity and exchange of ideas,” said Rivolta. “I was surprised that a lot of students never had the opportunity to leave the state. Take or seek the opportunity to travel and to get different experiences related to your field.”

Rivolta will pursue an academic career in the United States following his graduation in August. He recently accepted a position of Assistant Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Central Connecticut State University.

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