Career in criminal justice far from Korean student's economics degree

Harrisburg, Pa. — When Joongyeup Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in his native South Korea, he had no inkling that a career in criminal justice was in his future.

But two years in the South Korean Army and master’s degree study at Penn State Harrisburg have put him on a new path that has already resulted in academic honors and a full scholarship.

Lee’s journey began in 2002 when he joined his nation’s military armed with an undergraduate degree in economics and an ROTC commission. He served as a second lieutenant and team leader for one and a half years and was then promoted to first lieutenant, serving as an intelligence officer focusing on illegal immigration and illegal contraband until he left active Army duty in 2004 and began work as a business negotiator. He remains a reserve officer.

It was his supervisors in the military who encouraged him to change paths and consider a career in criminal justice. But there is little formal study in the discipline in South Korea, so study abroad was necessary. “I applied to, and was accepted, to a number of criminal justice graduate programs in the U.S., but was most impressed with Penn State Harrisburg,” Lee said.

“Penn State is well known in Korea and I began a correspondence with Dr. Sims (Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Barbara A. Sims, coordinator of the master’s degree program in Criminal Justice at Penn State Harrisburg),” he added. “She showed great interest in me and was a major role in my decision to come here in 2006.”

A highlight of his academic and research efforts at Penn State Harrisburg came this spring when his paper won first prize in the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Justice Educators Graduate Student Paper Contest.  Titled “Revisiting Louisiana Drug Interdiction: Drug Profiling in the Louisiana Justice System,” it was written from data gathered in his master’s thesis. He also will present his findings at the Northeastern Criminal Justice Studies Association in Rhode Island in June.

Lee also was named winner of the program’s Criminal Justice Outstanding Graduate Student Award at the annual student awards convocation in April.

Diligently learning English through reading and conversation, Lee embarked on his master’s studies, quickly drawing praise from faculty in the program. Associate Professor of Criminal Justice James Ruiz commented, “Mr. Lee is one of the most promising graduate students I have ever had the privilege of working with.

I had data that I had gathered years ago on racial profiling that was still very raw and needed analysis. He worked with that data and used it for his master’s thesis. We worked together on this project and it is of such quality that it is now under review by the International Journal of Police Science and Management. He has a very bright future.”

A native of Taegu, South Korea, Lee’s studies in the criminal justice field will not end when he is graduates May 17 from Penn State Harrisburg. He has earned a full scholarship to the doctoral program and will serve as a research assistant beginning this fall at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

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Last Updated May 06, 2010