faculty spotlight

Justin Barnum, Ph.D. - Visiting Assistant Professor

Justin Barnum, Ph.D.

Visiting Assistant Professor
 
What are your research interests/what are you currently working on?
A lot of my work is focused on teaching and builds on my classes.  I am currently working on a project looking at Visual Literacy.  I am generally look at issues of inequality and am playing with an idea on looking at disposable people.
 
Where did you go to college (undergrad through Ph.D.)?
- Hendrix College, Conway, AR: B.A. in International Relations and Global Studies
- University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR: M.A. in Sociology
- University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR: M.A. in French
- Howard University, Washington, D.C.: Ph.D. in Sociology
 
Why were you interested in studying sociology/criminology?
My very last semester of undergrad, I took my first sociology class.  It was environmental sociology with Dr. Stella Capek.  It completely blew me away and I thought to myself, I can’t believe it took me four years to find this and right before I graduate.  After speaking with her and other faculty they advised me to apply to the University of Arkansas M.A. program to see if Sociology was right for me.  It was.
 
What is your favorite course to teach?
That’s a difficult question.  I love teaching Social Theory.  Theory is what really caught my attention when I was a student and had Dr. Zajicek as my professor.  I also really enjoyed qualitative research with Dr. Holyfield, but don’t plan on teaching that.  Theory is fun for me because it allows students to see where and how ideas come into being and how concepts and thoughts from the beginning of sociology still influence and impact society today.
 
What are your favorite past-time or hobby?
I enjoy riding my bicycle, I try to commute to work when the weather is warm and its not raining.  I am also a Master Gardener through the University of Arkansas Extension Service and enjoy gardening both at home where I grow food and flowers and around town as a volunteer.

 Mindy Sue Engen, Ph.D., Professor

Mindy Sue Engen, Ph.D.

Director of Online Education
Professor
 
Why were you interested in studying sociology/criminology?
Sociology is the study of the group behavior at the intersections of biography and history.  I attended my undergraduate university because it was close to home and offered me a scholarship. I was a poor country kid, and no one in my family had gone to college. But a state-funded program provided scholarships to people like me.  This opportunity was there for me, and I seized it. I'm living proof that quality public education, social programs, and access to affordable higher education changes lives.  I'm also proof that people are constantly choosing among situationally-constrained alternatives. Options and opportunities vary, and their presence or absence often have little to do with individual intelligence, talent, or dedication. I became as social scientist because I recognized that much of my successes were based not just on luck or my individual ability, but on the social circumstances in which I lived. I had options not available for others, and their lives took different courses. Others had options I would never know, and their lives turned out differently, too.  My work is driven by my commitment to informed policy and practice. I want to help communities improve the circumstances in which people are situated and increase the availability and attractiveness of prosocial opportunities.  
 
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in rural Georgia, running around in the woods.
 
Where did you go to college (undergrad through Ph.D.)?
I got my undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from the University of West Georgia.  I completed both my M.A. in Crime, Law, and Justice  and my Ph.D. in Sociology (with concentration in Crime, Law, and Justice) at The Penn State University. I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,  working in the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.
 
What are your research interests/what are you currently working on?
I'm working on several projects, and ALWAYS have a bunch of different research areas going! Some of my projects in the works include studies of victimization and gun-carrying among LGBTQ youth, racial and ethnic disparities in sentencing, outcomes associated with federal prosecution of Native American defendants, masculinity and media images of men and male sexuality, the effect of animal-training programs on inmate well-being, and spatial modeling of adult entertainment establishments and crime. 
 
What is your favorite course to teach?
I love teaching Social Data Analysis (aka Statistics). Showing students that statistics and statistical reasoning can be accessible, interesting, and relevant is incredibly rewarding.
 
What are your favorite past-time or hobby?
I enjoy walking, running, and being outdoors. Much of my non-work time is spent hiking with my three dogs and chasing my twin toddlers around. I love True Crime and forensic shows, binge-watching Netflix (Stranger Things, Riverdale, Good Girls, and Lucifer are among my current favorites), and spending time with my family.

 Casey T. Harris, Ph.D., Assoc Professor & Co-Director, Center for Social Research

Casey T. Harris, Ph.D.

Assoc Professor
Co-Director, Center for Social Research
 
Why were you interested in studying sociology/criminology?
I actually started off as an aerospace engineer at Texas A&M, but couldn’t stand the prospect of sitting behind a computer designing rivets and bolts for years on end.  I ended up taking a social problems course my sophomore year and fell in love with the idea of studying people.  I was lucky enough to have a handful of faculty mentors who were really interested in teaching undergraduate students how to actually do research and my math background naturally fit.
 
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Bakersfield, California but grew up in central Wisconsin (Marshfield) and central Texas (Temple).
 
Where did you go to college (undergrad through Ph.D.)?
I attended Texas A&M for my Bachelor of Science and The Pennsylvania State University for my Masters and PhD.
 
What are your research interests/what are you currently working on?
My research focuses on the demography of crime, especially issues of inequality, race/ethnicity, immigration, and communities.  I like to have a lot of different types of projects going at once.  For instance, I have one project now where I’m looking at how immigrant segregation affects patterns of crime across different cities, another that looks at changes in new media coverage of immigration and crime over time, and another looking at how street and sidewalk connectivity affect the movement of crime across different neighborhoods.  I also have a book I’m finishing up right now that is all about the common issues and struggles that first year college students face and what research tells us are the most successful strategies for overcoming or navigating them.
 
What is your favorite course to teach?
I really love teaching statistics, which may seem odd to some.  A lot of students dread taking the course because they think they “hate math.”  I really enjoy watching those same students, assuming that they work hard and ask question, succeed in something they may have previously thought impossible.  I’ve actually seen quite a few students come to actually enjoy the prospect of research and appreciate how statistics are not just lies (to counter Benjamin Disraeli and Mark Twain).
 
What are your favorite past-time or hobby?
Pretty much anything “outdoorsy.”  I’ve been an avid rock climber and boulderer for over 20 years and I’m currently trying to summit all fifty-three 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado (I’ve done 22 so far).  I also trail run, paddle board, kayak, and mountain bike quite a bit.

 Lori C. Holyfield, Ph.D. - Professor

Lori Holyfield, Ph.D. 

Undergraduate Program Director
Professor
 
What is your favorite course to teach?
I enjoy teaching a lot of different classes but my favorites are Sociology of Culture and General Sociology 
 
What are your favorite past-time or hobby?
I play guitar and write songs and travel to music festivals!
 
Where did you grow up?
From Chico California to Bentonville Arkansas
 
Where did you go to college (undergrad through Ph.D.)?
University of Arkansas and then University of Georgia for PhD
 
Why were you interested in studying sociology/criminology?
I loved it from the first class I took.  Understanding how structural conditions shapes our lives, helped me to have more empathy for others.  It also empowered me to see that we have more agency than we think! 
 
What are your research interests/what are you currently working on?
Currently I am looking into  Collective memory and the role Civil War memory brokers -- groups that have a stake in how we remember our past. 

 Robert Wayne Mortenson, Instructor

Robert Wayne Mortenson

Instructor

What are your favorite past-time or hobby?
I love to ride a bike, walk in the woods, camp & kayak – so commning with nature is high on my list. But I particularly enjoy making music – both introspectively AND especially communally with other musicians. (Did I mention my interest in the aesthetic moment)? 
 
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in and near Chicago. When I was 4 years old, we moved from the west side of Chicago to a rural community just west of O’Hare Airport. During my junior high school years, the suburbs “moved to us.” Several of the large farms became “house fields” and Elk Grove Village was born. 
 
Where did you go to college (undergrad through Ph.D.)?
I attended Western Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago. I completed a BA in Psychology and an MA in Sociology at UA Fayetteville. 
 
Why were you interested in studying sociology/criminology?
Sociology caught my interest because of its broad based nature. From my perspective, sociology is a field that “touches” pretty much all other social sciences in some fashion. AND I had several friends who had pursued sociology. 
 
What are your research interests/what are you currently working on?
I have written papers on homelessness in NWA, emotional labor in the music profession and the aesthetic moment. Currently, the bulk of my research is related to teaching. 
 
What is your favorite course to teach?
I really enjoy teaching Introduction to Sociology and Criminal Justice. The topics are inherently relevant to all students and the application to the “real world” are endless. 

Rocio A. Paez, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor

Rocio A. Paez, Ph.D.

Visiting Assistant Professor 
 
I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. After graduating high school, I decided I wanted to learn English, so I enrolled in a student exchange program. Needless to say, my intended one-year journey turned into me calling the United States my home. I spent about 6 years in Anchorage, Alaska (for those of you wondering, no, I did not live in an igloo) and about 7 years in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I completed most of my studies. I received my B.A. (2012, summa cum laude), M.A. (2014) and Ph.D. (2017) in Criminal Justice from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I taught at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana during the 2017-2018 academic year. While I loved my time in the Midwest, I realized how much I love the south... so here I am! This is my first year at the University of Arkansas and I could not be more excited about it!
 
I enjoy teaching criminal justice and criminology courses because we get to examine and learn about the nature, function, and causes of crime in society. When I am not teaching, much of my time is allocated to research. My research interests include juvenile delinquency, the intersection of race, immigration, and crime and the role that networks and institutions play in neighborhood crime. My work has been published in journals such as American Journal of Criminal Justice and Deviant Behavior. I am a member of the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and I regularly present my work at regional, national, and international conferences.
I like to spend my free time with friends, family, and my dogs - Señor Dickie and Pisa. I also love to run and enjoy the outdoors. I am a huge sports fan and I am very proud to say I am now a Razorback - Woo Pig Sooie!

 Lauren Sabon, Ph.D., Teaching Assistant Professor

Lauren Sabon, Ph.D.

Teaching Assistant Professor
 
Why were you interested in studying sociology/criminology?
I began my undergrad as a biotechnology major but decided this was not the path I wanted although I thoroughly enjoyed DNA analysis. I transferred schools and entered a criminology program. I grew up with a love of reading, mystery novels in particular, and this fueled my interest in criminology and criminal justice.
 
Where did you grow up?
Ona, WV- small unincorporated town in the Ohio River Valley
 
Where did you go to college (undergrad through Ph.D.)?
- West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV)- BA in Criminology and Investigations
- Marshall University (Huntington, WV)- MS in Criminal Justice
- University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN)- Ph.D. in Sociology with Concentration in Criminology
 
What are your research interests/what are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a series of projects related to Latino sex trafficking and law/society studies. I am focusing on the use of social networks in sex trafficking and legal framing of crime in court proceedings. I am also involved in local community research on re-entry and support for the justice-involved.
 
What is your favorite course to teach?
I enjoy all of the courses I teach, but particularly like connecting with new and non-majors in Introduction to Criminology and Criminal Justice. I find being able to introduce students to the field of criminology is very important and rewarding to see their interest grow. Also, I find my special topics course on the death penalty to be particularly interesting and informative to students.
 
What are your favorite past-time or hobby?
As mentioned above, I love to read. My husband and I live on 10 acres with goats, a pig, rabbits, chickens, cats, and a dog. Our animals keep us busy when we are not working on our house.