Today@Sam Article

International Ph.D. Grads Contribute to American Universities, Research

Jan. 25, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

CJ SLIDER 1Over the last two decades, dozens of international students came to the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University to earn a degree. Following graduation, almost half of these students stayed in the U.S. to teach or conduct research.

In the last 20 years, 55 international students graduated from the Ph.D. program from countries across the globe, including Canada, France, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Twenty-six graduates stayed in the U.S., sharing their research skills and expertise in criminal justice at universities across the country.

“My love for research was born there,” said Natalia Tapia, Director of the Criminal Justice Graduate Program and an associate professor at Lewis University in Illinois. “I was bitten by the research bug.”

Tapia, who has dual citizenship from Ecuador and Peru, specializes in corrections as well as race/crime and gender/crime issues and has done work on elder abuse in the United States. She loves to share her research with her students as well as provide a global perspective on the topic at hand.

Tapia hopes to take a sabbatical in the future to provide comparative studies between her home countries and the U.S.

“Hopefully I can give my students some of the passion I have for research and knowledge,” Tapia said. “I want to teach them about evidence-based practices so they can assess whether the opinions they hear are in the right direction.”

Pierre Rivolta was born in France, but got his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Switzerland. He originally came to SHSU as an exchange student, but decided to stay for his Ph.D. degree. He said the College of Criminal Justice has a reputation as one of the top programs in the country for criminal justice, for its connections to the field through its professional institutes, and in provided outstanding faculty.  In addition to his education, Rivolta met and married a fellow Bearkat, started a job at Mount St. Joseph University in Ohio, and had his first child.

“All of these were opportunities that made it more difficult for me to go home,” said Rivolta. “I really enjoyed it, and it worked out well.”

Rivolta is now teaching eight criminal justice classes a year -- from introductory to core courses to electives -- and doing various research projects on specialty courts, a domestic batterers’ intervention program, and a drunk driving diversion program.

“I like being able to educate students, who will turn into professionals on the front lines,” said Rivolta. “I like dealing with and molding young minds.”

Napoleon Reyes was an attorney in the Philippines before coming to study at the College of Criminal Justice, drawn by fellow countryman and former SHSU doctoral student Martin Perfecto.

 “I didn’t even know about the discipline (criminal justice) before I came to SHSU,” Reyes said. “I had a limited way of looking at things from my legal background. It taught me to see things in a whole different perspective.”

Reyes was encouraged to engage in social science research by Victoria Titterington. As a first-year doctoral student, he co-presented a homicide study with Titterington at the annual meeting of the Homicide Research Working Group. “Dr. T,” as she is affectionately known, continues to be one of his mentors to this day whenever he has a concern in his professional life.

As an associate professor at Sonoma State University in California, Reyes specializes in political and white-collar crime, state crime and homicide studies. He also continues to do research on the Philippines and collaborates with Philippine-based agencies, hoping to make an impact on criminal justice policies there. He also works with local law enforcement agencies in California to plan new programs and to address challenges.

By providing perspective from outside the U.S., foreign faculty members help to enrich the experiences of their students. “I can interject my experiences,” said Reyes. “I lived that experience.”

Likewise, the program at SHSU opened international students’ eyes to issues in their own community. During a class discussion on spousal rape, Reyes recalled that a student from Botswana said there are no such laws in his country. “There are still places in this world where spousal rape is an alien concept,” said Reyes.

Vidisha Worley, a licensed attorney in India and New York, came to SHSU looking for a position as an adjunct professor during the summer of 2004. She wound up taking the GRE and applying to the Ph.D. program. During her tenure at SHSU, she worked for the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups and wrote a book under the guidance of then-Dean Richard Ward about terrorism in India. She, along with her co-editor is in the process of editing an encyclopedia on American corrections for ABC-CLIO, which includes 140 contributors and 240 entries.

Now an Associate Professor at Lamar University, her research involves police and correctional officer liabilities for the inappropriate use of tasers and stun guns. She also provides an international perspective for her students, such as discussions on the death penalty.

“International perspectives are very important,” Worley said. “It is a set of skills and tools that may come as a surprise to American students.”

This sentiment has been echoed by Jurg Gerber, professor of CJ and director of International Initiatives for the College of Criminal Justice: “Our international alumni who teach at American colleges and universities provide an invaluable service to American students by exposing them to new and unfamiliar perspectives,” he said.

Bitna Kim returned to the College of Criminal Justice in 2016 as the first resident Beto Chair scholar since 2008 to continue her studies in corrections. She originally came to Sam Houston State University from South Korea to pursue a Ph.D. degree. According to Kim, SHSU had one of the most welcoming programs for international students in the country, and the faculty was very approachable.

She stayed in the U.S. for the opportunities to build a bridge between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Ironically, while a Beto scholar at SHSU, she was enlisted to teach police cadets in China.

“It provides more chances to play an important role in connecting outside of the U.S. with the U.S.,” said Kim, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and co-director of the Center for Research in Criminology Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

She encouraged international graduates both in and outside the U.S. to publish in journals in their homeland as well as the U.S. “It doesn’t matter where they are, they can be a resource,” she said.

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