by Maria Thomas & Elizabeth Griffiths, Asst. News Editor & Staff Writer
In the short span of a year at Manhattan College, criminologist and professor Madeleine Novich, Ph.D., has reshaped the sociology department, sparking a newfound enthusiasm among students.
Novich has received a B.A. in Chinese and political science from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in criminal justice from the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.
Novich began teaching at MC at the start of last year. Prior to that, she was in a three-year post doctoral fellowship program at The Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.
“During my [post-doctorate] I worked extensively on my own research on policing and I also ran the Racial Democracy Crime and Justice (RDCJN) fellowship and conference at Rutgers,” she said.
As enthusiastic as Novich is about criminology and being a professor, she hadn’t always planned on pursuing academia.
“When I was younger, I thought I was going to go into law enforcement of some kind – either joining the CIA, NSA or FBI – given that I speak Mandarin Chinese fluently. I was actually in the final stages of becoming an FBI special agent when I decided to pursue academia instead. I literally had been ‘accepted’ by the FBI,” said Novich.
Luckily, the FBI’s screening process takes upwards of a year to complete, so Novich went back to school for a master’s in criminology. It was then that Novich met her mentor and decided to become a professor.
Novich said, “It was the best decision I could have made. I love being a professor and I actually feel that I can affect the most change and influence on the criminal justice system teaching future practitioners (i.e. my Manhattan College students).”
Sophomore Tate Belcher is one of many students who have been inspired by this professors refreshing and unique teaching style.
Belcher said, “I took a Roots course in sociology with her last year and it made me interested in something I’ve never even really put much thought towards. I loved how interactive her classes were. Even the people that don’t really care for sociology care for what she has to say.” Belcher is just one of the numerous students Novich sparked a criminology interest in.
One of the greatest changes Novich has made on the Manhattan College campus is her transformation of the Crime, Law and Social Justice concentration into the more coherent and specified Criminal Justice and Criminology concentration.
Novich said, “The reason behind the name change is because there is a very distinct difference between the criminal justice and criminology fields. First, we have criminal justice, which is ideal for students who want to go into law enforcement, law, corrections, federal services, etc.. Criminology is for those who are interested in pursuing higher education.”
Novich’s complete renovation of this concentration more closely focuses on the students and their careers later on.
“The restructure allows for students to collect credits in both fields, and then once they’ve completed their requirements they can take electives of interest to them. It is designed to give students a cutting edge, contemporary, comprehensive education in the criminal justice and criminology fields,” Novich said.
According to Cory Blad, Ph.D., head of the sociology department, “New courses are going to be offered, centered around Dr. Novich’s expertise on modern criminology. Classes such as Modern American Gangs, Corrections and Mass Incarceration, Police and Society and Gender, Crime, and Justice have been developed by Dr. Novich. ”
Students are exceptionally fascinated by Novich’s unique approach to learning.
“I came into this school as a communications major. I’m taking Dr. Novich’s Modern American Gangs class right now and I’m considering minoring in sociology now that I know the department is being upgraded along with all of the new classes offered. Also because I want to take more classes with Dr. Novich,” said Belcher.
As part of a “hands-on” teaching style, Novich has abandoned the classic textbook lesson plan.
“The vast majority of the time I don’t use a textbook, I use peer-reviewed, high quality empirical research that’s been published in the industry. The students are learning what research is being conducted in the field, who it’s impacting, how it’s done, and then we put on our analytic hats and say, ‘what is good about this research and where are its weaknesses?’” said Novich.
Furthermore, Novich is a firm believer in the power of guest speakers.
“Real practitioners gives students the opportunity and access to criminal justice professionals and can be offered internships. The former head of the NYC department of corrections is coming next semester and is interested in finding undergraduate interns,” Novich said.
Some of the guest speakers she has invited to the college include memebers of law enforcement, rehabilitated gang members, rehabilitated sex workers and attorneys.
Novich says,“They bring reality into the classroom, something that textbooks and articles cannot offer. It gives students a glimpse into the real world.”
Novich’s unique teaching style allows for students to branch out of classroom norms. She is emphatically impacting the sociology department at MC and more importantly, impacting the students.
“She makes the study of crime different than I’ve seen before, she makes it more relevant and sees it from a whole different lens,” said Belcher.