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Naya Russell-Coprich with Victoria Terranova and Kyle Ward, associate professors in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Naya Russell-Coprich, center, with Victoria Terranova, Ph.D., and Kyle Ward, Ph.D., at the Graduate Dean's Citation award ceremony.

Criminal Justice Master’s Student Honored with Dean’s Citation for Excellence

When Naya Russell-Coprich started her studies at the University of Northern Colorado, she wanted to be a police officer like her grandfather — one of the first black police officers in Denver. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice from UNC, Russell-Coprich has a new focus.

“I realized I liked the theoretical aspect more than the policing aspect. For example, looking into the different reasons that can lead someone to committing a crime,” Russell-Coprich said. “I plan to go back and get my Ph.D. because I’d like to teach theory.”

Despite growing up in Denver, she hadn’t heard of UNC. A visit to the Greeley campus led to Russell-Coprich choosing the university as an undergraduate, and COVID-19 cemented her decision to stay close to home for her graduate studies. By then, she’d forged close campus connections.

“I knew that the staff and faculty would not let me fail. Dr. Terranova was my mentor in undergrad and chair for my thesis. She really pushed me, and I don’t think I would have gotten through the program without her,” said Russell-Coprich.

She did so much more than “get through” the program. 

Russell-Coprich dove deep into her studies and research. At the same time, she participated in numerous student clubs, the Black Student Union, Black Campus Ministry and intramural sports. Her campus leadership positions included roles as the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Theta Iota chapter president and Black Women of Today president. She worked as a teaching assistant and held a job with a national youth organization. 

Fortunately, the master’s program in Criminology and Criminal Justice is designed with the flexibility to allow students to work full-time jobs and pursue other interests. Faculty members include lawyers, criminologists, public policy experts and detectives. Some consult with police departments and the state department of corrections. Classes are offered in a hybrid format, some online and others in Loveland. Russell-Coprich recalled that students formed a close bond during their online sessions.

Students in the program conduct original research with real-world applications while working closely with experts in the field. In her graduate research, “No Justice, No Peace, An Examination of the Protester Experience,” Russell-Coprich looked at traumas experienced by protesters at the hands of police officers.

“What I found was not only were people having their own post-traumatic stress disorders, but they also were having secondhand traumatic experiences from seeing others’ trauma,” Russell-Coprich said.

Additionally, she participated in research resulting in an open educational resources (OER) textbook and a study that examined the challenges of being released from prison after the world has changed post-COVID-19. 

Her hard work garnered Russell-Coprich the Graduate Dean’s Citation for Excellence this past spring. The award recognizes superior academic achievement in graduate studies. She was nominated by Victoria Terranova and Kyle Ward, associate professors in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“I was the only master’s student to receive the citation this time; the rest of the recipients were Ph.D. students. It showed me that all my work for the last two years has really paid off,” Russell-Coprich said.

Terranova mentored Russell-Coprich starting when she was a senior-year undergraduate student. She recalled Russell-Coprich being prepared for her classes and putting the time in to be successful. She connected with other students and faculty no matter how busy she was.

“She’s been good all along about taking the things that were interesting and important to her and translating them into what she wanted to study. As part of her undergraduate thesis, she interviewed college students whose parents had been formerly incarcerated to learn how that impacted their achievement. She also presented some of her research at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference in spring 2022,” said Terranova.

Russell-Coprich graduated this summer and is applying to doctoral programs. 

“If UNC had a Ph.D. program for me, there’s no way I would leave. I would get all three degrees there,” Russell-Coprich said. 

 written by Brenda Gillen