“My parents wanted me to wait to declare [my major] in the first semester so I would get a sense of what I wanted to study, but I pretty much knew from the get-go that it was going to be criminal justice,” said VanZant. “Back then, it was because I was interested in federal law enforcement, specifically terrorism.”
However, as VanZant progressed in his education, he found a passion for criminal justice research instead of law enforcement.
Through two research assistant positions and an internship with the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Adult Probation & Parole Department, VanZant gained valuable experience in the academic and research divisions of the criminal justice field.
During the first semester of his junior year, VanZant joined Assistant Professor Aunshul Rege’s research on social networks and their links to terrorism, which greatly influenced his interest in the academic side of criminal justice.
During that time, he was also accepted into the Criminal Justice Four Plus One Program, which allowed him to work towards his Master of Arts in Criminal Justice at the same time as his bachelor’s degree.
“As I got exposed to academia and became a [dual-enrolled] undergraduate and graduate student, I was increasingly exposed to research, and it became a [great] interest of mine,” said VanZant. “Once I assembled literature reviews and wrote methodologies, I realized that research was something I wanted to do more of.”
After his first experience, VanZant began to work with Assistant Professor Jamie Fader on research community and law enforcement meetings in a high-crime neighborhood within Philadelphia.
“We were trying to understand how [residents] frame certain crime issues and their perceived solutions,” said VanZant.
During his senior year, VanZant used the skills he learned from his research positions to succeed at his internship in the Philadelphia Adult Probation & Parole Department.
Originally meant to educate VanZant on the duties of a parole officer, his tasks expanded when his supervisors realized his interest and background in research.
At the time of his internship, the department was developing a needs assessment tool for parolees, and VanZant was given to opportunity to conduct intake surveys with individuals for the project.
“The point of the research project was to match offenders to specific services that best reflected their needs,” said VanZant. “The experience provided me with an understanding of how people experience the criminal justice system, and it elucidated my lifelong aspiration to work in criminal justice in some capacity to help some of these offenders.”
As a recent graduate of both his undergraduate and graduate programs, VanZant is currently applying for research positions in the criminal justice field, and eventually plans to return to academia to earn another graduate degree.