Katherine McLean, Penn State University – Crime on Campus

On Penn State University Week: Increasing student engagement can make a better campus climate.

Katherine McLean, associate professor of criminal justice, discusses a project that is doing so.

Katherine McLean is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Greater Allegheny. She received an M.S. in Population Health at the Harvard School of Public health, and a Ph.D. in Sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Her subject area research interests lay at the intersection of public health and criminal justice, and in recent years, have included media representation of opioid use and the effects of the “war on drugs” on accidental overdose. She is additionally interested in the implementation of course-based research experiences (CUREs) in criminal justice and the social sciences at large.

Crime on Campus


Teaching at a time characterized by a proliferation of information sources, “fake news,” and rising skepticism around expertise is challenging; yet, this political and historical moment also provides unique opportunities for an inquiry-guided pedagogy, which allows students to ask, and answer, their own questions – in short, to see how “the facts” are made. 

The “Crime on Campus” study is a course-based project that encourages students to think critically about crime and its representation, by empowering them to be primary investigators of a topic very relevant to their lives: experiences, and fear, of crime in the local community. Broadly conceived as a learner-directed study of criminal victimization and its effects on campus, this project exposes students to the entirety of the research process: from the formation of hypotheses grounded in “official statistics,” to the collection, interpretation, and presentation of original data.  

In addition to generating interesting, and important, evidence around campus climate and students’ feelings of safety, the “Crime on Campus” study seeks to leverage inquiry-guided learning strategies to increase student engagement, as measured by their expressed confidence, curiosity, and performance in the class. In its first semester, it has already demonstrated the capacity of students in a 100-level general education class to execute a complete research study with course-level supervision, which includes an undergraduate student research partner.

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