McLean is 2021 recipient of emerging faculty award for engaged scholarship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.  — Katherine McLean, associate professor of criminal justice at Penn State Greater Allegheny, has received the University's 2021 Outreach and Online Education Emerging Faculty Award for Engaged Scholarship.

Kate McLean

Kate McLean

Credit: Penn State

The Emerging Faculty Outreach Award is a University-wide honor that recognizes early-career tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty members whose work has significant potential to advance engaged scholarship through teaching, research and/or service. Their engaged scholarship work shows significant potential to influence societal issues on local, regional or national levels.

Since joining Penn State in 2014, McLean has been relying on her community-based research endeavors to engage students. Because her research explores substance abuse, it has great societal relevance. Her research works hand and hand with student engagement because she’s able to include her students in her research, showing them the value of the research while revealing how their education can have an impact on society.

“Over time, these interests have come to coincide, as I have progressively involved students in my scholarly pursuits and developed course-based primary research projects that have real impact, both on our campus and surrounding communities,” McLean said.

For substance abuse, McLean explores tensions between the legal and medical management of controlled substances across the nation, particularly western Pennsylvania. Areas of interest include the impact of criminalization of drug addiction, public health approaches to drug addiction and the impact of accidental drug overdoses on the criminal justice system and public health.

One key finding of her work showed that the fear of arrest for drug-related homicide caused fewer individuals to get help for those who are experiencing a drug overdose. Her research has generated both national and international attention, including presentations in Glasgow, Scotland and Paris, France. 

This work, in part, led to University-wide research collaborations for McLean. In 2017, she became project director of a University Park study of social networks and opioid use. As project director, she’s responsible for local data collection and creating research components.

With support from a Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse Community CCSA) Fellowship, McLean is principal investigator of a project that examines overdose prevention drop-in services at a community center in McKeesport. 

McLean also requires students taking her criminal justice and social science courses to do research using human subjects. One course that she recently redesigned, “Introduction to Criminal Justice,” engages students in various community-based research projects. One such project, “Crime on Campus,” had students collect data from nearly 40% of students before presenting their findings to campus law enforcement. The project has been revamped and expanded to other campuses offering the course.

“While my courses typically feature a combination of more traditional evaluations such as quizzes and exams and research-based assignments, I am drawn to the latter as a means of increasing student engagement – motivation, curiosity and confidence – and leveraging such engagement to improve overall course performance,” McLean said.

Nominators praised McLean’s ability to engage her students through not only allowing them to participate in research projects but also showing them the impact those research projects have on their communities and society at large.

“McLean is committed to using the academic platform to make real change in the local communities,” a nominator said. “She is an inspiration, and this award acknowledges the importance of her vital role in helping not only contribute to academic knowledge and discussion, but to bridge academic knowledge and resources to serve the community in ways that have a direct and concrete impact.”