MTSU associate criminal justice administration professor Ben Stickle took six-years’ worth of policing experience from patrol to the classroom when he changed careers to become a professor.
“While completing research for my Ph.D., I realized I could marry my policing skills and academic skills to research crime and develop methods to actually prevent the crimes,” Stickle said. “Thus, I’m able to use my degree to help the police and the community at large.”
Now a decade since leaving the force, three of Stickle’s research and evaluation efforts helped the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation receive a combined $950,000 in funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Two of these grants fund studies on the impact of coronavirus on crime and criminal justice at the state and local level, the first at $79,000 evaluating data from 2020 and the second at $80,000 evaluating data from 2021.
Adam Rennhoff, MTSU economics professor and economics graduate director, assisted Stickle with research on the 2020 project.
“We hope to produce several scholarly publications related to this effort and help police and government leaders understand crime in Tennessee and how it may have shifted during the pandemic,” Stickle said.
The third grant awarded Stickle $800,000 as part of the state’s Enhanced Collaborative Model Task Force to Combat Human Trafficking program, which brings together stakeholders from multiple disciplines — from law enforcement to academia — to combat all forms of human trafficking across the state.
Stickle’s research develops and provides a new study on human trafficking in Tennessee for the task force and a plan for the ongoing assessment of the task force itself.
MTSU criminal justice master instructor Carter Smith works as senior personnel on the project and provides research assistance.
Though he no longer does so with a badge and police uniform, Kentucky-native Stickle’s mission is still to combat crime and make communities safer.
“I want clear, actionable research that will help someone not be a victim of crime, and when they (crimes) do occur, to help police solve crime,” he said. “We can … prevent crime by understanding the structure and nature of it.”
‘The experience is invaluable’
Sam Fritts, graduate social work student, completed his bachelor’s degree at MTSU and wanted to continue his education at his alma mater but with a graduate assistantship to cover his tuition.
“Dr. Stickle had an opening for a graduate assistantship in his department,” Fritts said. “One of my social work professors, Dr. Vickie Harden, recommended me for the position.”
Fritts explained that being part of Stickle’s research has given him skills and experiences that will aid in his plans to become a licensed clinical social worker.
“(He) has given me the opportunity to become a published author,” he said. “The experience … is invaluable, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have ended up where I am. Though our current research is not directly related to social work, social workers are expected to engage in research-informed practice and practice-informed research, so it is important for us to be competent in this area.”
Fritts wished he had gotten involved with research as an undergraduate and shared his advice to students looking to get involved.
“There will be professors in your department engaged in research,” he said. “Find out what they are researching and, if the topic interests you, ask if you can be a part of it. In my experience, professors will always support a student’s desire to get involved in research. But you probably won’t get volunteered — you need to ask.”
Students can also learn more about how to get involved in research by visiting the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Program’s website https://www.mtsu.edu/research/.
Upcoming ORSP events include the student research exposition event Scholars Week set for 10:30 a.m. March 25 in the Student Union Building ballroom and two workshops to support faculty research, with more information here https://www.mtsu.edu/research/workshops.php.
Those interested in reading some of Stickle’s crime and coronavirus research can view his heavily shared and cited paper free of charge here. It has over 36,000 downloads, been referenced in over 200 news stories and cited over 120 times in the academic literature since its 2020 publication.
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)