CJ Ph.D. Student Earns National Award

Melissa Petkovsky earned a scholarship for her research paper from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

A first year Ph.D. student in the College of Criminal Justice is the recipient of the 2011 Doctoral Student Scholarship/Paper Competition awarded by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, one of two major professional organizations in the field.

Melissa Petkovsek was one of two students recognized for their outstanding research efforts for her paper entitled "Gender, Recollection, and Emotional State: Implications for Eyewitness Testimony." Petkovsek won the scholarship to attend the annual conference in Toronto and will be recognized at the Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony in March.

"It's a big deal because the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences is one of the two academic criminal justice/criminology professional associations for academic criminal justicians and criminologists," said Dr. Michael S. Vaughn, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Criminal Justice. "It is particularly impressive since Melissa is a first-year Ph.D. student. It bodes well for her future. Melissa writes well, has a good analytical mind, and pursues her studies with vigor."

Petkovsek’s paper on memory recall examines factors, such as gender, emotional state, and others, that impact the accuracy of memory. This research has implications for issues in criminal justice, including the ways in which police solicit eyewitness testimony or conduct "lineups."

"The award brings recognition to Melissa as a rising young scholar, and it also highlights the excellent research being done by graduate students and faculty in the College of Criminal Justice at SHSU," said Dr. Jeff Bouffard, who served as her faculty mentor. "The award brings national attention to Melissa and Sam Houston's College of CJ."

Petkovsek began the Ph.D. program in August after receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the College of Wooster in Ohio in 2008 and her Master of Science in Forensic Psychology from Tiffin University in Ohio in 2010. Her previous research has focused on the involvement of emotional affect on stereotyping and prejudice by jurors, and on the accuracy of eyewitness memory.

"I think my psychology background helps me view and conduct research differently; for example, I am more focused on individual differences over group differences," said Petkovsek. "I know that it has led me to my current research interests in biosocial theories of crime, and I continue to work with Dr. Jeff Bouffard researching rational choice theory."

Currently, Petkovsek serves as a Doctoral Research Assistant to Dr. Bouffard and her research involves investigating the rational choice mechanisms of offenders. Her interests for future research include decision making, gender differences, biosocial theories of crime, and psychological and neuronal correlates of crime. Dr. Bouffard said Petkovsek’s psychology background allows her to bring a fresh new perspective to criminal justice and criminology issues.

"What Melissa's work can do is bring advances from other fields, like psychology, into the awareness of criminologists and help advance the work being done to understand crime and the criminal justice system's response to it," Dr. Bouffard said.

Petkovsek said she is grateful to ACJS for the award and hopes to use her Ph.D. degree to teach.

"When I finish at Sam, I hope to teach and do research, although I think I will enjoy teaching more," Petkovsek said. "My educational experience during my undergrad was motivational and fun, and I hope that when I begin teaching I can continue that experience with my students."

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