Two Undergraduate CJ Students Earn Research Awards

Research Awards

Two undergraduate students earned top research awards from the Southwestern Association of Criminal Justice.

Two criminal justice undergraduates recently captured top student honors at the Southwestern Association of Criminal Justice (SWACJ) conference in Fort Worth.

Senior Beverly (Chia Chi) Liu and Junior Kayla McCarns, both criminal justice majors and members of the Honors College at Sam Houston State University, presented papers based on their honors theses. Liu’s paper “Civil and Criminal Liability Associated with Reporting Child Abuse” was awarded first place in the Undergraduate Student Paper Competition. McCarns captured third place in the competition with “Place, Space, and Crime: How Geography Relates to Criminal Activity.”

The Southwest Association of Criminal Justice is a regional affiliate of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, one of the largest professional organizations for scholarly activities in the field of criminal justice.

“I want to thank the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Honors College, and the Center for Enhancing Undergraduate Research Experiences and Creative Activities (EURECA) for funding the students to attend SWACJ,” said Professor Michael S. Vaughn of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, their faculty advisor.

Liu’s paper examined the lack of uniformity in the definition of child abuse across jurisdictions, which causes problems ranging from false arrest and malicious prosecution to failure to investigate ongoing child abuse. The paper reviews court cases involving mandatory reporting of child abuse and identifies important issues and underlying problems with the current system. It concludes with policy recommendations.

“I am surprised to be selected for 1st place in the Undergraduate Paper Competition,” said Liu. “I'm very grateful to have Dr. Vaughn as my mentor and to have friends and family who supported me along the way. I look forward to continuing this research for my honors thesis and to expand the literature in the criminal justice field."

McCarns’ study examines the theory of criminology involving crime and space. Although many theories try to explain the criminality of individuals, this field looks at criminality by geographic place, which could assist criminal justice agencies to allocate limited resources to crime-prone areas.

“I am humbled and surprised my paper was selected for 3rd in the Undergrad Paper Contest,” said McCarns. “I am grateful for Dr. Vaughn’s help and support on my paper, and I am excited to continue working with him. I hope my experience can serve as an example for other undergrad students interested in pursuing research.”

According to Vaughn, “the SWACJ meeting is a good venue for undergraduate students to present papers, especially their first papers at a professional conference.” He said that “it helps get out the butterflies before presenting at a national conference in the future.”

The Southwestern Association of Criminal Justice conference is well-attended by Sam Houston alumni who received their Ph.D.’s in criminal justice. Many of the officers in the organization are former SHSU doctoral students who are now professors at various universities scattered throughout the Southwestern region, which includes the states of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Arkansas.

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