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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Criminal justice student participates in Spelman College summer research program

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

University of Dayton sophomore Victoria Rivera was one of eight women participating in Spelman College’s Increasing Statistical Preparation in Research Education for Underrepresented Undergraduates (INSPIRE U2) program.

Rivera, a criminal justice major from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the University’s first nominee and first participant in the program funded by the National Science Foundation. The program provides a learning experience in statistical research for underrepresented undergraduate women. During eight weeks in June and July, participants are trained in statistical analysis, coding and complete an individual research project.

Rivera initially was reluctant to pursue the opportunity because she had planned to go home for the summer. 

“But, I looked at it, and I realized this might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

Rivera said one of the primary reasons she decided to apply for the program was its emphasis on statistical analysis and individual research opportunities, both of which would offer useful experience in addition to her education at UD.

“I had never had the experience of doing an actual thorough research project, and statistics was not my thing,” Rivera said. “But, I knew I was going to have to be using it a lot in the future, so that was part of my motivation to apply.”

The completion of a senior capstone project is required of all criminal justice majors. These projects often involve the use of advanced statistical analysis that can be challenging to students, said Martha Hurley, professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies. 

“Victoria’s participation in the INSPIRE U2 program has better prepared her for the advanced technical skills needed for completion of the senior capstone,” Hurley said.

The program originally was scheduled as an in-person experience on the campus of Spelman College, a historically black, women's liberal arts college in Atlanta. Instead, INSPIRE U2 was held virtually during summer 2022. Rivera completed the program from her home in Puerto Rico. She and other participants attended “boot camps” in statistics and coding, mindfulness sessions, and were matched with mentors to assist their learning experience.

“I was the only criminal justice major — the rest of the participants were science majors — so naturally my research was going to be very different,” Rivera said. “I decided to focus on the gender-wage gap in America, since that is a topic I am very passionate about.”

Using a data set of 42,000 participants and her knowledge of coding, Rivera’s research focused on the wage gaps between American men and women, and among women of different racial and ethnic identities.

“I found the difference between wages of men and women was very drastic, but there also is a difference between wages of women of different racial groups, at least with that data set,” she said.

As a young Latina woman, Rivera said the results of her research were eye-opening on a personal level, as she starts to think about her future career.

Hurley said Rivera’s selection for the INSPIRE U2 program and the substance of her research speaks to her abilities as a student, as well as the quality of education offered by the department.

“Victoria’s participation in the INSPIRE U2 program sends a very clear message that UD’s criminal justice program is not run-of-the-mill,” Hurley said. “Her participation also sends a strong message that our department is breaking down barriers in education for underrepresented students.”

The impact of the INSPIRE U2 program on Rivera’s education extends far beyond its eight-week timeframe. Rivera is enrolled in the 3+2 program to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice studies and a law degree in just five years.

Rivera said her experience in the program gave her a better understanding of her abilities as a student, which will benefit her educational journey at UD, as well as in law school and beyond.

“After I graduate, I would love to do research again and focus on topics similar to what I did for INSPIRE U2,” Rivera said. “I’ve learned so much, and I know that having this background will help me in the professional world.”

Rivera said one of the biggest benefits of the program was the close relationship she forged with her academic advisor Susybel Kallsen, a lecturer in UD's Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies.

“She was there with me throughout the whole application process, she was there with me throughout the whole summer and she was there when I gave my final presentation,” Rivera said. “I know that this has been life-changing for me.”

For more information, visit the Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies website.

Photo (middle): University of Dayton sophomore Victoria Rivera (left) with her academic advisor Susybel Kallsen, a lecturer in the Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies.

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