Arnold Grant Creates Ripple Effect on Educational Journey

Kaitlyn Coulter presents research at a national conference with her professor Dr. Kathryn Whiteley

While finishing her college education online isn’t what Kaitlyn Coulter ’20 ever would have imagined, it’s not the only unique part of her LVC experience.

Coulter, a senior psychology major with a criminal justice concentration, was one of a distinct group of LVC students to receive a grant for faculty-student research through the Edward H. Arnold and Jeanne Donlevy Arnold Program for Experiential Education. Through the included stipend, Coulter spent the summer before her senior year conducting research with Dr. Kathryn Whiteley, chair of social sciences and associate professor of criminal justice.

Coulter joined Whiteley’s ongoing research project focused on female sex offenders in Pennsylvania—a project in collaboration with the PA Sexual Offenders Assessment Board. This study examines extensive records of 502 registered female sex offenders in approximately the last 10 years. 

“I heard that Dr. Whiteley was looking for students to help with her research,” Coulter said. “After meeting with her and learning about these women, their behavior and lives, their pathway to criminality, I felt it would be interesting to learn why and how as women, they commit violent crimes.” 

Throughout the summer, Coulter uploaded coded information about the women into a software program that identified more than 200 variables on each woman’s criminal case. While entering data, she often discussed with Whiteley the various crimes, the criminal justice agencies involved in their cases, and the personal impact on their families and friends. Through this research, Coulter learned about different theories that relate to sex crimes and the victimization of these women.

“In my psychology classes, we discuss mental health disorders that some individuals are born with and/or who have neurological challenges,” Coulter said. “Studying criminal justice and sociology helped me to better understand how a person’s family, environment, and/or education, can all have a significant impact on their life’s journey.”

As part of her experience, Coulter traveled with Whiteley to present their research at the American Society of Criminology National Conference in San Francisco, Calif., last November. 

Through the connections made during the pair’s research, Coulter secured an internship with the PA Sexual Offenders Assessment Board in Harrisburg for the spring semester of her senior year—an experience she is still able to continue remotely since the office is closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

One organization Coulter studied during her internship was the Philadelphia Archdiocese to further her knowledge on the topic. Her criminal justice and psychology courses helped her understand the case files and mental disorders an offender may be diagnosed with along with the legal process of court proceedings.

“While researching, I would formally type up my findings and present them in an organized manner. I would discuss the dates when the scandal broke, how the priests have affected their victims and community, and the psychological reasoning why victims do not come forward about their abuse,” she said.

Coulter appreciates the lengths her internship supervisor and the staff at the board took to continue educating her on areas including Pennsylvania law, rehabilitation programs available, and tools for assessing the risk of offenders. She also attended a Department of Corrections budget hearing at the state capitol and participated in a video conference call regarding a rehabilitation center for sex offenders, such as the Sexual Responsibility Treatment Program. 

Overall, Coulter said all these experiences influenced her future career choice. She plans to pursue her master’s degree in criminal justice at St. Joseph’s University this fall. 

“I want to work with children who are struggling in life and in the system,” she said. “I believe helping these children at an early age and guiding them toward the direct path can make a positive change to their futures. Most of them never had the guidance or structure that most of us are fortunate to have. I would like to be that person for these children and push them out of the criminal path and onto a successful path.”


-- Marj O'Neill, Marketing & Communications Intern