The Charger Blog

Criminal Justice Students Excel at Regional Conference

Members of the University’s American Criminal Justice Association chapter recently competed with students from across the northeast, taking home a variety of awards, building their skills, and interacting with and learning from K9s and their handlers.

November 18, 2022

By Destini Craven ’22, ’24 M.S., Noah DiNallo ’25, Vanessa Schenking ’23, and Colin Graham ’23

Psi Omega ready for the awards ceremony.
Psi Omega ready for the awards ceremony.

The University’s American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA) chapter, Psi Omega, recently attended the ACJA Region IV Conference and excelled. Held at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, the conference brought criminal justice students and their professors together to network, learn, and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. The event, which had a K9 theme, also enabled students to interact with several K9s and their handlers.

Students took part in a variety of competitions from solving a mock crime scene to tests of their physical agility. Several students took home awards, and their professors and club advisers Daniel Maxwell, MPA and Maria Torre, M.S., also received several top honors.

Below, several students who took part in the conference reflect on their experience.

Destini Craven ’22, ’24 M.S.
Destini Craven ’24 M.S.
Destini Craven ’24 M.S.

I was so excited when I was told we were able to go to the regional conference in West Chester, PA. This was my first conference, even though I had been with the club since my first year at the University. COVID-19 has impacted students in so many ways, so I was going to take advantage of this opportunity.

The planning that this conference took was extensive, but I knew it would be all worth it in the end. Overall, I had a great time at the conference. I did not know what to expect, but the hosting school was very friendly.

This year’s theme was related to K9 units, which was amazing. My favorite part of the conference was the K9 demonstration. There were three different dogs: one was a patrol dog, one was an arson dog, and the other was a drug dog. They each did demonstrations finding different substances, and it was amazing to see what these dogs could do.

At the end of the trip was the awards ceremony. This was very rewarding because it showed how well the club did overall. For me, it was extra rewarding because it showed all the preparation and planning that I did with the club truly paid off.

I cannot wait to attend more conferences and to get to meet more students who have the same passions as me and aspire to be in law enforcement.

A catwalk view of the firearms training facility the students visited.
A catwalk view of the firearms training facility the students visited.
Noah DiNallo ’25

Since joining the American Criminal Justice Association club in September, the regional conference was one of my first involvements with the club. Not knowing what to expect, when I arrived at West Chester University for the first night of regionals, I discovered how big the American Criminal Justice Association truly was. College students of all levels and professionals from the field came together to take part in competitions related to the field of criminal justice, and it was an eye-opening experience.

The theme of the conference was K9s, so on the first full day of the conference, we were introduced to three K9 dogs, including a bite dog, arson dog, and narcotic-detection dogs. I was able to see how each dog operates, including how they signal what they have been trained to detect, what rewards they look forward to, and how they interact with humans other than their handler.

Personally, my favorite takeaway from the conference was the Crime Scene Competition. In groups, students were given 15 minutes on a crime scene to take notes, complete a rough sketch, and ask specific questions to receive information to help solve the crime. We were then given 45 minutes to write a narrative on what we knew and what forensic tests we would like to have completed. As a younger college student, I have not had much education in crime scene investigation, but the experience further solidified to me that I am on the right career path.

We also competed in a physical agility competition and were tested on our knowledge of several aspects of criminal justice, such as criminal law, policing, juvenile justice, corrections, and homeland security.

Vanessa Schenking ’23.
Vanessa Schenking ’23.

The regionals conference was only the tip of the iceberg compared to what I am expecting at the national conference in the spring, and I recommend that every student who is passionate about criminal justice attend this conference. It is an eye-opening and unique opportunity to compete in relevant competitions, network with faculty and students from other schools, and discover what you are truly passionate about.

Vanessa Schenking ’23

I currently serve as vice president of the University’s ACJA chapter, and I have been involved with the organization since my first year. Earlier this month, I attended the American Criminal Justice Association’s Region 4 conference in West Chester, Pennsylvania with our chapter, Psi Omega.

The theme of the conference was K9s. We had the opportunity to watch a K9 demonstrations including three dogs: K9 Elou is trained in arson investigation, K9 Remy is trained in detecting a variety of different drugs, and K9 Axel is trained in both drugs and tracking. The K9 demonstration was very fun to watch, and we were able to ask all of the officers questions to better understand their dog’s role in investigations.

During the conference, we took part in different competitions that tested our knowledge and physical ability. We took six tests in police management, criminal law, corrections, homeland security, and juvenile justice. We also competed in groups of three to try and solve a mock crime scene. Lastly, we competed in the physical agility portion, which was set up as an obstacle course.

K9 Axel, a narcotic detection and bite dog.
K9 Axel, a narcotic detection and bite dog.

Before we went to the conference, we prepared our members for all of these competitions by hosting Kahoot nights, sharing the basics of crime scene, and creating a physical agility test. We were all well prepared, and most of us won trophies at the banquet. I won two trophies: 3rd place in the upper division for Lambda Alpha Epsilon (LAE) Knowledge and 7th place overall in the mock crime scene. At the banquet, we were able to socialize with professionals and members from other chapters across Region 4. This served as a great networking opportunity.

Overall, all of our members had a fantastic time at the regional conference. We were able to get to know each other better and bond over the experiences we shared. I am so thankful for the opportunity to attend this conference, and I am so excited to attend the National conference in Louisville, Kentucky, in March!

Colin Graham ’23

I joined the Psi Omega chapter of ACJA in the Fall of 2021 and sat on the conference education and firearms safety committee. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we were not able to attend the 2021 regional or national conferences. Instead, our e-board organized a mini-regional event, which simulated the events typical of a regional conference, including a mock crime scene.

When I received word that Psi Omega was attending the 2022 Region IV Conference, I was initially unsure if I was going to attend. I had started my internship later in the semester and was concerned I would not be able to complete the 150-hour requirement. I was also disappointed that, despite great effort from our e-board and advisors, Psi Omega would not compete in the firearms competition, which I was most interested in. In the end, I decided to attend.

Colin Graham ’23.
Colin Graham ’23.

Only one Psi Omega member in attendance had conference experience. While most of us did not know what to expect, we did well. I had finished first on the homeland security exam and third on the corrections exam in the upper collegiate division, and my group finished ninth in the crime scene practical.

Aside from academic competitions, I found the K9 demonstrations interesting, particularly arson K9 Elou of the Upper Chichester, PA Police Department. We were also given a tour of the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus, a facility which I had not ever seen the likes of. The facility included a tactical village and firearms facility, which housed two ranges: one 50-yard range and one 100-yard range.

The days were long, but I felt our bond as an organization grew. In three days, I went from hardly knowing my peers within Psi Omega to being asked by the e-board to co-chair the conference education and firearms safety committee for the spring 2023 semester.

Attending the Region IV Conference provided me with opportunities I would have not been afforded otherwise. I plan on attending the 2023 national conference in the spring, and I would urge my fellow Psi Omega members to consider doing the same. I would also encourage incoming Lee College students to join the Psi Omega chapter of ACJA and to participate in the regional and national conferences.

Destini Craven ’22, ’24 M.S. is a candidate in the University’s graduate program in forensic technology who also earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She serves as president of the University’s ACJA chapter. Noah DiNallo ’25, Vanessa Schenking ’23, and Colin Graham ’23 are criminal justice majors, and Schenking is vice president of the University’s ACJA chapter.

The University’s ACJA chapter.
The University’s ACJA chapter.