As a young girl, Elycia Daniel would listen to her aunt—a parole officer—talk about her work. Elycia loved the excitement and drama of these stories, and was fascinated by the complexities and intricacies of the law. It wasn't long before she decided that she, too, would pursue a career in law enforcement.
Like her aunt, Elycia worked in corrections—pretrial, probation and parole. But she has a second passion: education. She earned her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Auburn University, a master's in criminal justice administration from Clark Atlanta University, and has completed all her coursework toward her PhD in criminal justice at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas.
Today, she continues to work in both education and criminal justice. She is a faculty mentor in CalSouthern's School of Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement and—licensed by the state of Texas—conducts drug and alcohol offender counseling, working closely with court officials and probation officers. She also performs extensive research in her areas of interest (more on that below).
We caught up with Elycia to learn more about her research and work in criminal justice, as well as her experience as a faculty mentor at CalSouthern.
CalSouthern: You do quite a bit of research. What are a few topics of particular interest to you?
Elycia Daniel: Much of my current research focuses on sex offender legislation. It's a very complex, sensitive, fast-evolving and—in many ways—difficult topic. In particular, I focus on sex offender residential restrictions, as well as notification and registration.
I also have worked extensively in crime mapping. To oversimplify, you note when and where crimes occur, look for patterns, and then use the data to determine how best to devote law enforcement resources to eliminate or reduce the criminal activity.
One interesting study I worked on involving crime mapping focused on determining whether and to what extent there was a “Katrina Effect” in Houston after the influx of hurricane evacuees from New Orleans. I won't go into all the details here, but many assumed and were fearful that there was a disproportionate surge in crime with the arrival of the evacuees. I was able to scientifically show that this effect did not, in fact, exist and that any increase in crime was in proportion with what one would expect when a city's population is increased by 4,000 people. The fear that Katrina evacuees were running rampant in Houston, robbing, killing and raping, was completely unfounded.
CalSouthern: You mentioned that your initial interest in criminal justice came from a fascination with your aunt's career. What about the field maintains your interest today?
Daniel: Criminal justice is always changing and evolving; there are always new developments. Because of the growth of technology, for example, there are crimes and laws that we would never have even considered 20 years ago. The criminals have more—and more sophisticated—tools to commit crime, and law enforcement has improved tools to fight crime. The field is constantly changing and never dull.
CalSouthern: In your opinion, is now a good time to consider pursuing an education and career in criminal justice and law enforcement?
Daniel: I think it is a great time. The American public is fascinated with crime, law enforcement and the legal system in general. It's dominant in popular culture and the news media. This is important because it shows that the population is engaged now; normal citizens are getting involved and new and potentially more effective legislation is being passed, giving law enforcement better tools to fight crime.
And, unfortunately in some ways, there is job growth and job security in this field. We can't seem to build prisons fast enough and public safety is always a priority. There are lots of opportunities for anyone interested in law enforcement.
Forensics—whether scientific or digital—is certainly a hot area. I also would encourage people to consider corrections. The corrections system is a good place to start; it offers lots of opportunity to learn and advance.
CalSouthern: You have been in online education for nine years. As someone who has the perspective of having also taught in the traditional environment, what do you find so appealing about online education?
Daniel: Well, from the students' perspective, the flexibility online education provides is probably its most appealing aspect. So many students are able to pursue degrees online—whether it's an undergraduate or advanced degree—when they simply would not be able to at a brick-and-mortar institution.
From a professor's perspective—although it obviously benefits the student, as well—I find that the online discussions I have with my students are more conducive to bringing in real-world applications. And, since I often know quite a bit about my students and their backgrounds, I am able to tailor my feedback to their experience and interests. It's also been my experience that the more open-ended questions and conversations we have in the online arena allows me to draw more out of my students than I would in a traditional classroom.
Finally, I think the online environment allows more students to excel. Shyer, more introverted students are often more comfortable and can really shine in this environment, but it doesn't have any negative effect on more extroverted students.
CalSouthern: What advice would you offer a new or prospective student?
Daniel: The most important—and this won't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with online education—is to pay attention to time management. Just because you can study at any time and in any place doesn't mean it doesn't require a significant time commitment. And because you don't have the rigid class schedule of a traditional university, you need to be very self-motivated and proactive about how you schedule your time. I recommend scheduling study sessions in advance, committing yourself to the same amount of time that you would devote to a traditional course.
And if for some reason you can't devote much time to the material until the weekend, at least read as much of it as possible early in the week, and ask any questions you might have of the professor so that when you are able to sit down and devote more time to your studies, you'll know what's required of you and have everything you need to successfully complete the assignment.
Also, I encourage students to engage. Engage with your mentor and your advisor and engage with fellow students on the forums. Not only will interacting with other students help you better understand and relate to the material, your professors will notice this, too—and it will be reflected in the quality of your work. Many of my best students are those who are most engaged with the material, the instructor and other students.
CalSouthern: What are your most rewarding moments as a faculty mentor?
Daniel: I am happiest as an educator when I experience a student have one of those “a-ha moments,” when the material all of a sudden snaps into focus—they understand it conceptually and they can see how it relates to a real-world issue.
It's also wonderfully rewarding when a learner—because of a connection they feel with the coursework—suddenly discovers their interest, their niche, the direction they want to take their lives. To have played a part in such an important moment in someone's life is extremely gratifying.