Missouri professor named new director of ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Beth Huebner, also the third Watts Endowed Professor, begins work Jan. 3

July 14, 2022

A criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will be the new director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Dean Cynthia Lietz announced today.

Beth M. Huebner, who starts work at ASU Jan. 3, 2023, also will be the inaugural Watts Endowed Professor for Public Safety. Portrait of Beth Huebner, ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice director and Watts Endowed Professor Professor Beth M. Huebner. Photo courtesy Beth Huebner Download Full Image

“We are truly fortunate that Dr. Beth Huebner has agreed to join our college as the next director for our School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the inaugural Watts Professor for Public Safety,” Lietz said. “Dr. Huebner is not just a prolific scholar; her work is done in collaboration with community, something that aligns with our mission to build more vibrant, healthy communities. Her leadership will secure our place as one of the most highly recognized and impactful schools of criminology in the nation.”

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is part of the Watts College. Huebner is a full professor in the University of Missouri-St. Louis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, where she has been a faculty member for 19 years.

Huebner said she is thrilled and honored to be asked to join the faculty, staff and students at one of the country’s premier criminology and criminal justice schools, whose doctoral degree program is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as No. 2 in the nation for 2023 and its online master’s degree program No. 7.

“It’s a wonderful job and an opportunity to be part of one of the best programs in criminology and criminal justice in the United States,” Huebner said. “I have had the opportunity to meet many of the faculty and was so impressed with their work. I’m excited to be part of such a large and diverse team whose work impacts so much in the United States and the world.”

Huebner noted that ASU is home to a large number of first-generation college students, which she said is important, as her current job involves putting them on a path toward a high-quality education and she looks forward to continuing to serve such students at ASU.

Huebner said she was also excited about ASU’s national reputation in innovation, ranked No. 1 in innovation for seven straight years by U.S. News & World Report.

“Things move quickly at ASU. They’re excited about trying new things. We’re at a point in the criminology and criminal justice field where we can use some change,” she said. “This group (of faculty) has the resources and skills to serve Arizona and the whole United States."

This is a great time for a student to enroll in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Huebner said, because the university is dedicated to developing the next group of leaders in a profession that faces many challenges, particularly during a time when many citizens have called for policing and correctional reform.

“It’s time for a more broad and diverse representation of people and voices in criminology and criminal justice. There is an appetite for change. This school is known for excellence. Students have the opportunity to work with professors in the field, testing theories, developing real-world solutions to complex problems,” Huebner said. “It’s a real hands-on approach to reform that should be exciting for students. It is a difficult time, but at times like these, we need leaders to stand up and try new things. And that’s where innovation comes in. Good things are ahead.”

Huebner said her approach involves gathering leaders from within the criminal justice system and the communities they serve to seek long-term solutions to community problems.

She noted that school's place in the Watts College, alongside schools of public affairs, social work and community resources and development, enables natural partnerships with criminal justice.

“Watts is in the community, with people affected by the criminal justice system, such as the formerly incarcerated and victims of crime,” Huebner said. “What do they need as they go from here? We should make sure we respond to communities with what they truly need in the long term.”

Huebner said more trust needs to be built between the criminal justice system and the people it serves. She said her approach to accomplishing that involves developing partnerships and hearing the voices of people in communities, something she said is practiced at ASU and at the Watts College.

“It’s been a big part of my job to just go in and listen. I find community members often have the answers,” she said. “For me, it’s important to build the capacity of communities, to amplify their voices and to find funding and support to make sure reforms happen.”

Huebner also said she looks forward to working with undergraduates. She said she likes how ASU brings in diverse voices from the profession into academic programs to help meet issues head on.

“Students want to be active learners and to apply their skills beyond the classroom. I’d love the opportunity to build on what the faculty have already done in community-engaged research and scholarship, and work to increase ways people can use a criminology and criminal justice degree,” she said.

Huebner’s principal research interests include punishment and incarceration, inequalities in the criminal justice system, and public policy. She has worked on collaborative projects with the Missouri Department of Probation and Parole, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the St. Louis County Jail. She has received funding for her research from the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, the National Institute of Justice and Arnold Ventures, as well as other, local funding sources. She has served as the vice president of the American Society of Criminology. She is the editor for the Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology and recently completed a term as an associate editor for Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Huebner earned her PhD and her Master of Science degree, both in criminal justice, at Michigan State University. Her Bachelor of Arts degree, in sociology, is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Huebner will be the college’s third Watts Endowed Professor, a position supported by the 2018 family gift of Mike and Cindy Watts. In January, Lietz announced that Renee Cunningham-Williams will be the Watts Endowed Professor in Social Work in the School of Social Work and Maryann Feldman will be the Watts Endowed Professor of Public Affairs in the School of Public Affairs. Both will begin work at ASU this fall.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU New College recognizes 1st graduates of growing law and psychology PhD program

July 14, 2022

This summer, Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences recognized Emily Denne and Kristen McCowan as the first two graduates of the growing law and psychology PhD program. 

“The fact that we were able to get such high-caliber students during our first year was key to the growth and reputation of our PhD program,” said Nick Schweitzer, founding director of the Law and Behavioral Science initiative and associate professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “We are so proud of Emily and Kristen not just for their success in our program, but in how they are using their experience and training to tackle such important issues.” Side-by-side portraits of ASU graduates Emily Denne (left) and Kristen McCowan. This summer, ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences recognized Emily Denne (left) and Kristen McCowan as the first two graduates of the growing law and psychology PhD program. Download Full Image

The program, which was established in 2017 as part of the university’s Law and Behavioral Science initiative, melds the fields of law and psychology to help explain how human behavior interacts with and is affected by the legal system. The program aims to train students by taking a broad interdisciplinary approach with the goal of encouraging them to use this knowledge to tackle understudied areas where the legal system is in need of empirical psychological research. 

"Emily and Kristen were wonderful students who started together as part of the first cohort of the PhD program,” said Tess Neal, associate professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “They learned leadership and mentorship skills, honed their craft in empirical methodology and statistics, and enriched the lives and labs of the students and faculty in the law and behavioral sciences program. We are proud of them and will miss them as they move on into the next stages of their careers, continuing on their quest to improve understanding and functioning of the justice system."

Here, Denne and McCowan share about themselves, their experiences and what’s next for them.

Emily Denne

Denne was born in England and moved to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She grew up in a small town in Indiana and completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Evansville. 

“It was there that I began research on child maltreatment under the mentorship of Professor Margaret Stevenson,” Denne said. “Her work on child custody coupled with my own lived experiences sparked my interest in child maltreatment research more broadly.”

She began studying law and psychology at ASU in 2018 and was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to fund her education. She successfully defended her thesis on understanding children’s reports of grooming in child sexual abuse cases.

Question: What inspired you to pursue the law and psychology PhD program at ASU?

Answer: I met Jessica Salerno, a professor in the law and psychology department, at the American Psychology-Law Society conference in 2018. At the time, I had just withdrawn from a school psychology PhD program and was struggling to find direction for my research interests. She introduced me to the work of Professor Neal and Professor (Stacia) Stolzenberg at ASU. Both lines of work were exciting and interesting to me and directly aligned with my own research interests — the investigation and prosecution of child maltreatment. It was Professor Salerno who introduced me to this exciting work and gave me a foot in the door at ASU. I am very grateful for the opportunity she gave me.

Q: What was your favorite part of this program?

A: I have many fond memories from the program. I have really enjoyed the meaningful connections and relationships I have built with my mentors and other students in the program. It has been exciting to learn with them, from them, and grow as an academic. 

Q: How does this PhD help you to achieve your goals?

A: I am deeply grateful to the rigorous law and psychology program that the faculty at ASU have built. I have learned so much about myself, my ability to do hard and challenging things, as well as developing content area expertise in child maltreatment. I have been given so many opportunities and so much support for my advisers. When I began graduate school, I hoped to publish 10 peer-reviewed articles by graduation. By the time my degree is conferred, I will likely have reached this goal. I could not have done so without the incredible support and guidance of the faculty in the law and psychology program.

Q: What’s something you learned while at New College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: At New College, I learned so much that challenged my perspectives and drove me to really value being a consumer of science on a daily basis. One thing that's stuck with me the most was something I learned in Professor Neal's lab. She continually challenges us to engage with the opposite point of view, to consider adversarial collaborations and critically evaluate both sides of an argument. This idea of adversarial collaboration, or directly engaging with and working with those who would have opposite viewpoints, has been something I have worked to do in both my personal and professional life. It has helped me really develop my own opinions and stances, but has also challenged me to be open to changing my opinion in light of new and different evidence.

Q: What are your post-graduation plans?

A: I hope to spend some time working as a child forensic interviewer. I study how forensic interviewers gather reports from maltreated children, so I hope to really immerse myself in the field and learn more from those who do this work directly. I am also currently pursuing a post-doctorate at Griffith University in Australia at the Center for Forensic Interviewing. Should I receive the postdoc, I will have the opportunity to study under Martine Powell and Sonja Brubacher at the center.

Kristen McCowan

McCowan is originally from Chicago, Illinois, and has lived in Phoenix since she first started attending ASU. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

She first became interested in legal psychology after taking a psychology and law course and learning about the limitations in our criminal justice system. After learning more about the field, she became involved in research looking at jury decision-making in a sexual assault case, which sparked her interest in jury research and how people weigh different types of evidence and the effect of biases on judgments throughout a case. 

“Knowing I wanted to do this type of work, Professor Tess Neal's research stood out to me, and I liked that the program had a strong emphasis on the intersection of psych and law, with classes that were specific to this area of research,” McCowan said.

She successfully defended her thesis on predictors of jurors’ understanding of evidence strength

Question: What was your favorite part of this program?

Answer: My favorite part of this program was expanding my areas of interest and getting to work closely with Tess and the rest of the faculty and students. The program would every once in a while have other researchers in the field visit to present their work, and it was a great chance to get to know people better in both an academic and social setting afterwards. The courses we were able to take specific to the intersection of psychology and the legal system also taught me a lot about the field, and with the classes being smaller and discussion-based, it was great getting to hear everyone's perspectives on the research we read. 

Q: How does this PhD help you to achieve your goals?

A: As a whole, the program's emphasis on research methodology and writing helped me on the job market pursuing a research-centric position. Tess' research lab gave me opportunities to take leadership roles in the research process — which, as a research analyst, taught me skills I continue to use day to day. The faculty also encouraged students to attend conferences and give research talks that helped with networking and getting involved in the field.

Q: What’s something you learned while at New College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned a lot about the diverse career opportunities that opened my eyes to ways to make positive changes in the legal system through research without necessarily having to pursue a strictly academic-based job. 

Q: What are your post-graduation plans?

A: Post-graduation, I am going to continue working in the legal psychology realm, working as a research analyst for the Center of Integrity in Forensic Sciences doing research for forensic evidence reform.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences