Prospects of conducting exciting research influenced grad to study criminal justice

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

When Abiud Hernandez-Garcia began studying criminology and criminal justice at ASU, he thought he wanted to be a police officer. But the Avondale, Arizona, resident said he was never quite convinced it was the correct career path for him.

Then, sometime during his sophomore year of his bachelor’s degree program, the excitement of making discoveries in the field through research struck him.

“I realized I wanted to study crime and the criminal justice system,” said Hernandez-Garcia, now a Master of Science degree recipient and the fall 2021 Outstanding Graduate from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Hernandez-Garcia credited his work with Cody Telep, an School of Criminology and Criminal Justice associate professor who guided him through many research projects, for helping him reach this conclusion.

“He taught me the importance of every research topic, no matter how insignificant it may seem,” said Hernandez-Garcia, who also was enrolled in ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College.

Hernandez-Garcia said Telep accepted him as an undergraduate research fellow with no experience.

“By working alongside him, I became familiar with the process of research sooner than I would have otherwise and learned the importance of studying every aspect of a topic,” Hernandez-Garcia said.

Hernandez-Garcia said Telep’s mentorship helped him gain invaluable experience and confidence in his ability as a researcher.

“I should note this funny detail, however,” he said. “I have never had Professor Telep as an instructor.”

After graduation, Hernandez-Garcia said he hopes to remain at the university in some capacity, either as an instructor or as a doctoral student, and to give back to the greater community as a volunteer firefighter.

Read on to learn more about how Hernandez-Garcia’s ASU experience prepared him for his next steps:

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: One moment in my education that stands out to me was learning for the first time that criminals are specialists. People who commit crimes usually only commit a very specific kind of crime. This, along with the realization that crime in many instances is a result of struggle or trauma, made me realize that if not treated correctly, crime is like a hydra, growing two heads where we sever one. Because of these changes in my perspective, I now believe that the criminal justice system should work more closely to a social-work model, seeking to fix the root causes of social issues rather than endlessly treating the symptoms.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it was the closest to home for me. I still had to work and help support my family while studying, and ASU allowed me to have the on-campus student experience while still going home on weekends for work.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I believe students still in school, especially in their early years, should not be afraid to experiment with the opportunities presented to them. Oftentimes I was hesitant to try new activities and I believe I would not be where I am today if I had not left my comfort zone. However, leaving that zone was not of my own volition. I received advice and motivation from my ASU 101 instructor and other loving staff and faculty in my college when I was presented with new and daunting opportunities. So my second piece of advice would be to listen to advice!

Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: During my early ASU days, I spent a lot of time in the boxing room of the downtown Phoenix YMCA at the Sun Devil Fitness Center. I would head out there before dawn and practice some drills or just spar with the punching bag. I also met Birdie, an old boxing coach, while I trained there. He gave me life lessons while making me dodge his punches. It was a spot I cherish that I would not have experienced had it not been for ASU.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I hope to remain at the university in some capacity. I have been an instructor for ASU 101 and would like to continue working with and teaching undergraduates. I also plan to apply for the doctoral program here at ASU to continue my studies in research. In my free time, I’d like to become a volunteer firefighter, to still contribute to our first responders on the front lines.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: As a criminologist there are quite a few issues that I believe need mending. First among them, however, is conducting solid, replicable research to support rehabilitation programs and generate more reliable forms of funding for them to keep minor offenders out of jail or prison. As I have stated before, I believe crime is only the product of struggle. By helping people who had to resort to crime simply because of their difficult circumstances, we may be able to prevent them from becoming better criminals and instead give them a better chance to improve their lives. This outlook, however, is not as widely accepted as it could be. A critical part of this is the lack of reliable research on the subject, which is an issue in many social sciences, but with funding it would be a lot easier to work around.

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Mark J. Scarp