Shila René Hawk, Ph.D.
BA and MA in Sociology | 2010 | Applied Research Services, Inc.
Shila René Hawk, Ph.D. is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and Georgia State University. She has been working at Applied Research Services, Inc. (ARS) since 2014. Based in Atlanta, ARS is a private, small business consulting firm specializing in complex research design and analysis to support public policy, programming, and legislative decisions. ARS has a multi-disciplinary team of criminologists, psychologists and research scientists. ARS clients include law enforcement, state and local courts, and secure and community corrections agencies, as well as various public policy stakeholders.
Dr. Hawk’s primary research efforts are focused on evidence-based law enforcement, violent crime, and data science. At ARS, she is lead research partner for the Northern and Southern Districts of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Offices and a dozen policing agencies on strategies to mitigate recurrent violence, gun-involved crime, retaliatory shootings, gang violence, victimization, and community trauma. Other projects include improving police legitimacy, investigation clearances, violent-incident reporting, and data utilization. Dr. Hawk is also an expert in Georgia criminal justice databases and contributes to an array of projects at ARS via data management, DBA integration, and analyses. For example, she maintains the GA electronic criminal history repository and has helped develop computerized risk assessment protocols in multiple states for jails and community corrections. She has experience with various secondary database types, as well as overseen original data collection using mixed methods, can program in multiple languages, and is trained in a range of statistical techniques. Her mission is to promotes data-driven decision making and rigorous research evaluations designed to strengthen the criminal justice system.
Dr. Hawk is a Bureau of Justice Assistance Smart Suite Researcher Practitioner Fellows and holds a full board of Social Science Panel & Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act Compliance Certifications. She is certified by the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and the Skill-Based Practitioner Training Program in Injury and Violence Prevention. Dr. Hawk teaches online courses for the University of Arkansas and mentors graduate students at several universities. She regularly presents at conferences and justice agencies in the U.S. and abroad. She is an active committee member of the Homicide Research Working Group and on the Homicide Studies Editorial Board. Her work can be found in prestigious journals such as Criminology, Criminal Justice & Behavior, Justice Quarterly, and the British Journal of Criminology.
Why did you choose to purse an MA in Sociology at the UofA?
I was originally attracted to sociology as an undergraduate at the UofA. My enrollment advisor described the field as a breadth of information from across disciplines, integrated in a way that helps with overall maturation. Therefore, the introduction course seemed as fundamental as math and history. That class motivated me want to take another. I quickly realized that the social sciences could help me make sense of humanity, and thus my purpose within it.
Why, you might ask, did I feel unsure of the world and how I fit into it? Well for one, it is a somewhat universal ignorance as youths (defined by time) have limited exposure to the vast array of cultures and the ideologies of societal antiquity. I had also experienced serious disfunction in my prior community, academic, and personal relationships. I was hungry to comprehend and contextualize those (and future) interactions towards personal and professional growth. The more courses I took in the department, the more I understood the importance of studying sociology as it relates to citizenship skills and liberty.
I had never felt particularly inspired by or good at anything until I double majored in sociology and criminal justice. I became fascinated with the effects of perceptions, structural inequality, and systemic problems. I started to question everything.
A couple of professors regularly stayed after class and scheduled meetings with me to answer or discuss theories, practice, methods, and statistics. The professors’ enthusiasm was contagious, and their expertise admirable. Not only did I gain significant new insights, they taught me to think critically and communicate better. Those same professors encouraged me to pursue an advanced degree and wrote letters of recommendation for my packet. I was not completely sure I belonged in graduate school, but I wanted to learn more and knew it was my path to a meaningful career. In the MA program, I became obsessed by the process and implications of research that carries through to today.
What did you do upon graduating from the MA in Sociology program?
I continued to work on research manuscripts and database development with UofA professors while moving to Atlanta, GA. That fall I enrolled at Georgia State University as a member of the inaugural Criminology and Criminal Justice doctoral program cohort. I worked as a research assistant while getting my Ph.D. for the next four years, then took a job with my current employer. I have been at Applied Research Services, Inc. for five years now, and love my ever evolving and interesting projects.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
My overarching goal has always been to have a career that I am passionate about and with purpose. I accomplished that; my work helps people. Every day I get to use evidence to help improve policy and practice in the criminal justice system, as well as expand the research literature. I could not be prouder of my colleagues and our output.
How did your education in the MA Sociology Program prepare you for what you are doing today?
The foundation of my research and all research-related services can be traced back to the UofA Sociology MA program. I was able to build upon that strong foundation in my doctoral program and ultimately it resulted in me being a Subject Matter Expert, research consultant, and data scientist. It was the UofA faculty’s guidance that led me to define an area of interest, nurtured quintessential methods and analyses understandings, and provided the opportunity for my first experiences in conducting studies. I often advise on evidence-based practices by digesting the existing literature, determining its validity, and helping clients know how to apply it. We regularly did this in my MA courses. I design data protocols, monitor implementation, and evaluate effectiveness, by testing hypotheses and making appropriate inferences from findings, as was required by my thesis. Lastly, the mentoring continues to be invaluable, both professionally and personally, as my primary mentors are among my favorite people.
What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Orient to your degree as though it is the start of your career, because it is! If you do that, you will likely invest in your education more deliberately and holistically than others do. This will set you apart, which will lead to additional opportunities and honors. While others are competing with classmates, you will find ways to learn from and leverage their strengths for your own success. You will continue to raise the bar for yourself, dependably feeling challenged to improve your own capabilities. You won’t be looking for excuses to skip class or assignments, rather ways to develop marketable skills and a bankable network. The value of your own time and others will increase, boosting your productivity and preeminence. Overall, your confidence, competence, and resume will expand, thus making you attractive to prospective employers.