Criminology Prof Studies Pivotal Time in Teens' Lives
Nov. 16, 2011
"There are so many things that go into a person’s decision to not follow the rules, and we only understand a part of it,” said Dr. Nadine Connell.
Dr. Nadine Connell, a new assistant professor of criminology at UT Dallas, has always been fascinated by human beings and the decisions they make in the context of crime.
Growing up, she was surrounded by family members who worked in the criminal justice profession. Her father and grandfather served as corrections officers. Several of her uncles were police officers. It wasn’t until she worked with at-risk youth in high school that she realized that the criminal justice field was more than just policing and prisons.
“It was watching kids who were coming from extreme life circumstances and you could just see them reacting to that,” she recalled. “That to me was really profound because it made me start to think that there are so many things that go into a person’s decision to not follow the rules, and we only understand a part of it.”
Her experience helped shape her current research interests that examine issues affecting adolescents and teens during what Connell says is a pivotal time in their lives. Juvenile delinquency, program and policy evaluation, and adolescent alcohol, tobacco and other drug use (ATOD) are among her interests.
“Everything that they’re (adolescents and teens) going through is so important to them in that moment. To get a chance to work with them in that time is really kind of cool,” she said. “You get to be a part of their lives at a time when they hate everybody. And still you might be helping them do a little bit better than they would otherwise.”
Connell also explores bullying, an issue that has received increased attention in the last several years. She is extremely interested in studying the experiences of bullying victims because she said society tends to forget how much being bullied can influence students’ lives.
“We don’t pay enough attention as to how those victims’ experiences affect a student’s development,” she said. “That is something I’m really interested in because we do know that school progress and educational attainment are two of the biggest predictors of later life success. It’s one thing to make sure you’re teaching everybody everything, but if you can’t learn because you’re afraid of the kid sitting the next two rows over, we haven’t helped you.”
Prior to joining the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS) at UT Dallas, Connell was an assistant professor in the Department of Law and Justice Studies at Rowan University in New Jersey.
She recently wrapped up a five-year project in New Jersey, where she evaluated a bullying prevention program at 30 middle schools. The program uses a process known as social norming that promotes positive behavior and helps correct students’ misperceptions about negative behavior. Connell said preliminary results show very strongly that bullying has decreased in the schools that implemented the program.
“The problem with bullying right now is that people are making policy without knowing what the research says and that’s really dangerous,” she said. “And that’s the other reason why I’m really excited we’re now finished with the project, so we can start talking about these results because policy needs to be informed by this type of research.”
Dr. James Marquart, dean of EPPS, said he looks forward to watching Connell grow the criminology program.
“She’s a known asset in the classroom and her research, particularly in the area of school-based crime and prevention and the issue of bullying, will certainly garner us national exposure and attention,” he said. “I think she makes a wonderful addition to the school and faculty.”
Connell said she chose to work at UT Dallas because it’s a great opportunity to work alongside esteemed colleagues who are accomplished in the criminology field. And she is excited to work in a growing PhD program.
“The new PhD program is phenomenal for a young scholar like myself,” she said. “There are so few PhD programs in the country [in Criminology] and to get work at one the caliber of UT Dallas -- that has made such a splash in the very short time they’ve been offering a PhD -- it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Connell earned her Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice from University of Maryland at College Park. She earned her Master of Science degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., and her Bachelor of Science degrees in both criminal justice and sociology, also from Northeastern University.
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