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RIC alumnus Daniel McCarthy, a 2013 graduate in justice studies with a minor in sociology, recently won the American Sociological Association (ASA) award for a 40-page honors thesis he wrote as a senior.

Offered by the Sociology of Law section of the ASA, this award recognizes an exceptional paper by an undergraduate written between 2012 and 2014 while s/he was a student. Nominations are made by college and university faculty and administrators across the country.

McCarthy’s thesis was nominated by Associate Professor of Sociology Mikaila Arthur. He conducted his research under the supervision of Professor of Political Science Thomas Schmeling. Upon hearing that McCarthy won the ASA award, Schmeling’s reaction was pride. “This is a pretty big deal,” he said. “That makes Daniel best in the nation.”

Titled “Understanding the Determinants of U.S. District Court Judges on Patriot Act Cases,” McCarthy’s thesis questioned whether decisions by district court judges were based on their own political leanings or were made to ensure that the decision would not be overturned should the case go before the superior appellate court. 

In 2013, over a span of three months, McCarthy collected data from hundreds of individual district court cases concerning the Patriot Act. He created his own data set, analyzed his findings and concluded that both variables – political preference and anticipation of being overturned – had an effect on the way judicial decisions were made. His in-depth research gained the approbation of the ASA.

McCarthy said he feels honored to have won and thanked Arthur, “a great mentor,” for nominating him. He also acknowledged his honors thesis advisor Schmeling for inspiring him to engage in research.

“I took Dr. Schmeling’s civil liberties class and saw his intelligence and his zeal for research,” McCarthy said. “When the class ended, I decided to engage in an independent research project of my own and asked him to be my thesis advisor.”

McCarthy also expressed appreciation for all of the professors in the justice studies, political science and sociology departments at RIC. “They made all the difference in my education. I still meet for coffee with Dr. Arthur, Dr. Schmeling and Dr. Jackson, director of the justice studies program. They’ve become friends as well as mentors.”

McCarthy graduated from RIC summa cum laude. He also earned honors in sociology and won the Mary Ann Hawkes Award in Justice Studies. This award honors an outstanding justice studies major who graduated the previous January or the following May. The award is based on the student’s overall GPA and the student’s “recognition of and concern for national, regional or local problems of justice and their solutions.”

McCarthy is now working on his Ph.D. in criminology at Pennsylvania State University – one of the top criminology programs in the country – where he continues to develop his aptitude for research.​