May 13, 2015 | By: Carl Nathe
Lexington, Ky.

University of Kentucky Family Sciences doctoral student Charlene Harris received some wonderful news recently. She was selected as  one of only three recipients of the American Society of Criminology's (ASC)2015 Graduate Fellowship for Ethnic Minorities. 

Harris, a native of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, is the first doctoral student at UK to receive this national award since it was started by the ASC in 1989.

"Charlene is highly deserving of this honor and recognition by the society," said Alexander Vazsonyi, John I. and Patricia J. Buster Endowed Professor of Family Sciences and Professor of Psychology, a faculty member in UK's Department of Family Sciences, part of the School of Human Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. "It is a testament to her diligence and dedication to doing high-quality research focused on adolescent problem behaviors, deviance, and violence. She is in excellent company as recipients have historically mostly been selected from the top Ph.D. programs in Criminology/Criminal Justice across the country, which makes this competitive award even more meaningful."

Harris will use the $6,000 fellowship award to help finance the completion of her studies at UK, as she prepares to defend her dissertation this summer.

In a letter to Harris notifying her of her selection, ASC President Candace Kruttschnitt said, "This is a great honor and signifies that ASC considers you to be a rising star in our field."

Harris grew up in the warm climate of the southernmost part of the Caribbean, her homeland being just five miles from the coast of the South American nation of Venezuela. A high school classmate who had knowledge of Kentucky's Berea College urged Harris to look into the school, because of its tradition of work-study and no tuition. Harris gathered more information and was accepted at Berea where she majored in sociology, earning her bachelor's degree in 2008.

Harris knew she wanted to pursue further study and applied to the graduate program in social work at UK, completing her master's degree in 2010. By this time, Harris' interest in how young people develop and why some adolescents fall into deviant behavior was piqued. She was accepted into the Ph.D. program in UK Family Sciences.

Harris' research is centered on understanding the pathways to youth involvement in the juvenile justice system, in particular investigating what leads poor, inner-city, African-American adolescents to become entrapped in a cycle of despair which too often can seem intractable.

While serving as a graduate assistant at UK, Harris has benefited from mentoring by Vazsonyi, who has chaired numerous Ph.D. students during his career, many of which hold postdocs or tenure-track faculty positions at major universities. Vazsonyi also is the editor of the Journal of Early Adolescence.

Her upcoming doctoral defense is not the only big event on Harris' schedule. She is one of only 26 young scholars from around the world to be invited to participate in the 2015 Summer School which this year takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, an event jointly organized by the European Society for Research on Adolescence (EARA) and the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA), and sponsored by the Jacobs Foundation.

This fall, Harris, who enjoys the connectivity of her research to teaching, will begin a one-year assignment as a visiting assistant professor in at the Hamilton, Ohio campus of Miami University. She will be teaching courses in child and adolescent development while there.

Contact: 

Carl Nathe, 859-257-3200/carl.nathe@uky.edu.