When junior Sarah Towakoli began Discourse H300, she knew exactly what she wanted to center her research paper on—advocating for more career and technical education programs for criminal offenders.
As she began researching her topic, she questioned whether preparing an offender for employment would reduce crime and recidivism rates, the tendency of a criminal to reoffend. This led to discovering cognitive behavior treatment, an individualized approach that targets specific needs of offenders, which shifted the focus of her research paper.
“When I saw that our incarceration rate is the highest globally, as well as our recidivism rate is the highest globally, I thought there had to be a relationship between that,” Towakoli said. “We just continue to re-incarcerate the same people over and over again.”
After finishing her paper, she began the process of submitting it for publication in UMKC’s undergrad research journal, The Lucerna. The entire process—from the writing and researching portion to the editing and publication portion—took a little over a year. Although Towakoli’s approximately 6,000 word essay has a criminal justice focus, the topic extends to other disciplines as well.
“I think there’s something for a variety of different fields,” Towakoli said. “Whether it’s a criminal justice major, a political science who likes to consider reformation policies—the topic of cognitive behavior treatment is something that’s very attractive to someone who likes to study psychology. Anyone who’s interested in history and sociology, there’s a lot of discussion about what historically brought us to this point.”
Senior Tyler Evans also submitted his research from Discourse H300 to The Lucerna. Evans’ essay focuses on the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NOVA), a policing initiative called focused deterrence.
“What [KC NOVA] does is they get out ahead of the violence,” Evans said. “They identify people who are most frequently involved in gun violence. Then, they try to provide them with resources to convince them to leave that environment they’re in and compel them to better themselves and live as a responsible, nonviolent citizen.”
Evans relied primarily on primary sources for his research through interviewing subjects, such as Dr. Ken Novak from the UMKC Criminal Justice Department, workers in the police sector and the leader of the Violent Crimes Division.
Evans attended a “call in,” an event where public figures like the Mayor come together with people known to be involved with gun violence. To show the consequences of continuing the path of gun violence, leaders of community betterment organizations speak about their experiences, including Rosaline Temple from KC Mothers in Charge.
“When she speaks, especially since she lost her son to gun violence, the people kind of straightened up and paid attention,” Evans said. “They really considered her message to leave gun violence and accept the help that KC NOVA was trying to give these people.”
Evans and Towakoli look forward to seeing their works published. Although both were involved with other obligations, they found time to meet deadlines and make sure their pieces were ready for submission.
“I would say the process is a lot less daunting than someone would think when they think of publishing their own independent research,” Towakoli said. “The benefits are just so huge. You’re able to say at 19, 20, 21 that you’re a published researcher. That’s something that not a lot of people can say.”
The process of researching, writing and editing culminates with the Lucerna Symposium, an opportunity for the contributors to share their research with UMKC students and staff. The convention will be held on Feb. 15 from 5-7 p.m. in rooms 401, A through D, in the Student Union.