Criminal Justice Students Host a Conversation with Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia
By Sheryl E. Taylor
The College of Public Service rightfully prides itself on providing its students with community connections to advance their experiential learning opportunities.
Recently, the College hosted Adrian Garcia, Commissioner for Harris County Precinct 2, for a conversation with students in Dr. Fei Yang’s undergraduate course, Research Methods in Criminal Justice (CJ3300).
In the Research Methods class, “we discuss various social science methodologies for applied criminal justice research and evidence-based policy evaluation,” said Yang, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of the College’s Houston Laboratory for Crime and Justice. “Commissioner Garcia has been a pioneer in promoting advanced technologies in policing, such as ShotSpotter, and data-informed, evidence-based public policy for better practice.”
Yang also noted that her students were encouraged to have an open dialogue with Commissioner Garcia. Students asked questions regarding applied research and policy and were able to learn from a practitioner with real-life experience in evidence-based policing. “This unique learning experience helps connect textbook knowledge to practice and translate what is learned in the classroom to what can be used in actual policymaking and practice,” noted Yang.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with the young leaders at UHD's Houston Laboratory for Crime and Justice. It’s always invigorating to hear from the next generation about what they see is most important in public safety,” said Commissioner Garcia. He continued, “Building relationships with the community is not solely the responsibility of specially designated law enforcement officers. It starts at the top, with elected leaders setting a good example for rank-and-file officers. This opportunity to discuss better communication between the public and police was not a guest lecture by a county commissioner but a chance for me to hear what we can do better to serve people and keep them safe.”
CJ3300 is designed to introduce students to the design and implementation of research in the field of criminal justice, including principles of research methods and design for use in policy analysis, content analysis, and analysis of secondary data. The course also gives considerable attention to the application of design and implementation as it relates to criminal justice issues within a real-world context.
The conversation with Commissioner Garcia was a one-on-one interview conducted by Yang's graduate student, Drejoin Ellington, in partial fulfillment of his Master of Science in Criminal Justice project. Ellington opened the conversation with the question, “In what ways can citizens and the police better communicate each other’s needs and concerns?”
“It’s beneficial for the students in the Research Methods class to observe how to conduct semi-structured one-on-one interviews as future social scientists,” emphasized Yang. “Through this interactive process, students were able to practice participatory observation and intensive interviewing—two of the qualitative methods they have learned this semester.”
Yang added that her students received three takeaways from their conversation with the Commissioner: engagement, enhanced learning, empowerment. “Students were actively engaged in the conversation with Commissioner Garcia. Engaged and motivated students acquire knowledge and retain information better and more efficiently. Textbooks teach concepts and theories whereas Commissioner Garcia brings the concepts and theories to life,” she said.
“The students also learned how to represent their communities, especially disadvantaged neighborhoods, through their own voice,” Yang added. “It is encouraging and empowering for students to know that their voices count and can make a big difference.”
Image: Courtesy of Harris County Precinct 2
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.