The Charger Blog

Criminal Justice Doctoral Candidate Earns Prestigious Scholarship for Dissertation

Samantha Tosto ’17, ’24 Ph.D., hopes her dissertation research will yield critical data on the effectiveness of de-escalation techniques for police officers. The National De-Escalation Training Center has awarded her a scholarship that will support her important work.

April 12, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Samantha Tosto ’17 in 2022.
Samantha Tosto ’17 in 2022.

Samantha Tosto ’17, ’24 Ph.D., is passionate about policing and reform. Her research reflects her desire to make a meaningful impact on communities, and her work has now been recognized and supported in an important way.

Samantha Tosto ’17 presents her research in the spring of 2022.
Samantha Tosto ’17 presents her research in the spring of 2022.

Tosto was recently named a recipient of a prestigious dissertation scholarship from the National De-Escalation Training Center (NDTC), a nonprofit organization that serves public sector law enforcement agencies and aims to deliver advanced research-supported training. As part of her dissertation, she will evaluate the training provided to law enforcement by NDTC.

The University was selected to become an NDTC regional training center last year, and, as part of her research, Tosto will be working with the center at the University. She hopes that, by evaluating data pertaining to officers trained across the country, she will be able to gather important quantitative and qualitative data on how this training impacts use-of-force, as well as officers’ perceptions of procedural justice and fairness.

“Receiving this scholarship really feels like it represents a culmination of all my work and research experiences throughout the doctoral program,” said Tosto, whose research interests also include youth justice and mental healthcare in the justice system. “I also think it is a reflection of just how much our faculty pour into us as students, prepare us, and encourage us to go after competitive opportunities. I have been nothing but elated since finding out I received this award, and I am just so grateful and appreciative!”

‘Opportunities that are unparalleled’

Tosto, who also earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University, was excited to return to her alma mater to begin her doctorate in criminal justice. During her first two years in the Ph.D. program, she served as a doctoral research fellow at the University’s Tow Youth Justice Institute under the mentorship of Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., CPP.

Tosto’s work taught her about youth justice, policy work, and policing programs, as well as how research and best practices can inform statewide decision-making. Tosto says the mentorship and guidance she received as a fellow was remarkable. She’s particularly grateful for the women-identifying mentors and supporters she’s had.

“Dr. Cooper creates an environment that fosters our academic interests, and she provides her students with opportunities that are unparalleled,” said Tosto. “I firmly believe that pursuing higher education of any kind requires a really strong support system, and there’s truly no better than what we get here from our faculty and fellow students at the University. The experiences I’ve had have furthered my professional interests and research skills and are most certainly going to make my fellow Ph.D. students and me competitive job candidates upon graduation.”

Samantha Tosto ’17 presenting at her first conference as a Ph.D. student in 2021.
Samantha Tosto ’17 presenting at her first conference as a Ph.D. student in 2021.
‘Allow me to explore careers that are research-focused’

A member of the University’s Liberty Initiative, Tosto has been a part of two major research projects. She explored changes in crime in Connecticut towns during the pandemic and served as the leading researcher on a project examining employee satisfaction at nonprofits in the state who work with populations involved with the criminal justice system. She has presented the results of her research at two major national conferences.

Samantha Tosto ’17.
Samantha Tosto ’17.

While she is a dedicated student of criminal justice, Tosto is also enjoying her role as an educator. As an adjunct professor, she has taught the University’s UNCommon Course. This semester, she’s teaching juvenile justice and scientific methods for criminal justice. She’s enjoying the variety these very different classes offer, and she relishes exploring theory and methodology with her students.

“My absolute favorite part of teaching is getting to know my students and allowing them space to explore the topics they’re most passionate about or help them explore new areas of inquiry,” she said. “The moment when a student tells you they appreciate feeling listened to or enjoyed learning about something is always so special.”

In her own role as a student, Tosto is excited for what her dissertation research will teach her. She hopes the findings will provide meaningful data about the effect of de-escalation training and support improved police-community relations.

“This scholarship not only alleviates a lot of the financial burdens that come with being a full-time student, it also provides the opportunity to conduct really focused and rigorous research in an area I’m very passionate about,” she said. “I hope having this research experience will inform my job search and allow me to explore careers that are research-focused in ways that serve communities directly.”