BUIES CREEK -- Each year 700,000 offenders are released from prison; and, according to a 2011 Pew Center study, more than 43 percent of them will re-offend and return to prison, many within the first six months of their release. Why do offenders re-offend? What effect does this recidivism have on the prison system and on U.S. society? And what can be done to help reduce the recidivism rate?
For the past year, Anna McNeill, a senior in criminal justice at Campbell University, has explored answers to these questions as part of a research project she conducted that included evaluating the effectiveness of Project Reentry, a Winston-Salem-based nonprofit that works with individuals who have been incarcerated. She presented her findings Tuesday at the Campbell University Wiggins Memorial Library’s 3rd Annual Academic Symposium, which showcases original, faculty-mentored research conducted by undergraduate and graduate students.
In all, 72 students from across nearly a dozen disciplines -- from divinity to clinical research to pharmaceutical sciences -- participated in the symposium, either by delivering an oral presentation or completing a poster presentation.
“I’ve been researching [recidivism] for a year, and it’s a really important social issue for me. I see how it’s overlooked in society,” said McNeill, who conducted her research project under mentor Catherine Cowling, an instructor in criminal justice at Campbell. “The symposium was an opportunity for me to give voice to that. The more you tell people about a social cause [like recidivism], the more they know about it and the more research they may do for themselves -- and the more they may want to make a difference.”
Giving students the space and the time to share what they’ve discovered through their research projects is a primary purpose of the annual symposium, said Sarah Steele, head of research and instruction services at Wiggins Memorial Library. It also gives students valuable speaking opportunities, prepares them for regional and state competitions, and perhaps even encourages “other students who pass through the symposium to seek out their own research opportunities or learn about other majors,” she added.
The Academic Symposium was the idea of Borrée Kwok, dean of the Wiggins Memorial Library. She long wanted to celebrate students’ discoveries at Campbell. After the library moved from Carrie Rich Hall to Wiggins Memorial in 2010, the staff had a venue to host a symposium and introduced it in 2011.
The library is the natural entity to organize and host the symposium because it’s “often the starting point for research,” Steele said.
Among the students who began their research with the help of the library and who participated in the poster session Tuesday was Sowmya Kuriti, a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences. Mentored by Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Mali Gupta, Kuriti used her poster presentation to introduce to other students how the emulsification-diffusion method can prepare clotrimazole nanoparticles.
The significance? Many people aren’t even aware that this method -- which relies on polymers that can biodegrade in the body and reduce the need for surgery to remove them -- can be used to prepare nanoparticles for pharmaceutical technology, she said, adding that’s why she participated in the symposium. “This method is new to our university, and I wanted people to know that there are other methods to prepare nanoparticles, not just famous ones.”
Doing such large, in-depth research projects helps teach students how to think, gets them out of their comfort zone and encourages them to apply what they’re learning, said Sally Thomas, assistant professor of music and director of vocal studies. She mentored Kendra Lisec, a comprehensive music and biology double major who examined how Cleopatra has been represented in opera and in film for a research project that she turned into a poster presentation.
“One of our roles as faculty members,” Thomas said, “is to help students bring their ideas to life and to teach them how to do research -- of how to look at the information that is out there, see how they can apply that to whatever it is they are doing and see if they can draw new conclusions or take research further.”
And that’s important, she added, because it helps students learn “to think broader and deeper, and that prepares them for life after Campbell.”
For her life after Campbell, McNeill -- the recidivism researcher on track to graduate in May -- said her participation in the Academic Symposium confirmed that she wants to continue to conduct research, perhaps for the government or at a nonprofit, in areas related to criminal justice, including recidivism.
“I like research. I like talking. But the social reason draws me to these issues and is why I want to figure out what we can do as a society and what I can do with my degree to help reduce recidivism,” she said. “This symposium helped move my career and studies forward.”
Photo: Pharmaceutical sciences graduate student Sowmya Kuriti discusses her research project with one of the faculty members who attended the Academic Symposium Tuesday. (Photo by Siuki Wong, courtesy of Wiggins Memorial Library)
Article by Cherry Crayton, digital content coordinator