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NMSU criminal justice honor society takes top awards at conference

New Mexico State University’s chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, a national criminal-justice honor society, won a number of awards at their national conference in New Orleans, Feb. 15-17, 2018.

Girl holding up a piece of paper
The students in New Mexico State University's chapter of the Alpha Phi Sigma criminal justice honor society traveled to New Orleans for their annual conference competition. Pictured is NMSU's Erika Ochoa, right, who won the conference's Regina B. Shearn Scholarship worth $1,500. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Joseph)
Bed behind police tape.
The students in New Mexico State University's chapter of the Alpha Phi Sigma criminal justice honor society traveled to New Orleans for their annual conference competition. The chapter received a number of first-place awards, as well as individual awards and scholarships. Pictured is the crime scene created by NMSU's chapter for the crime-scene-investigation competition, which NMSU won last year. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Joseph)
People gathered at a dinner table.
The students in New Mexico State University's chapter of the Alpha Phi Sigma criminal justice honor society gathered for dinner during their trip to New Orleans for their annual national conference competition. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Joseph)

Andrea Joseph, college professor in NMSU’s Criminal Justice Department, is the chapter’s faculty adviser.

“Alpha Phi Sigma has over 400 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada,” Joseph said.

NMSU’s chapter has been active since 1987 and Joseph has been its adviser since 2010.

The specific awards the chapter won first place in are:
• Outstanding Unity Chapter Goal
• Outstanding Leadership Chapter Goal
• Star Chapter Award
• Outstanding Chapter Yearbook Award
• Website Competition Award
• Chapter T-Shirt Competition

“For the unity award, our chapter attended a number of social events together—the corn maze at Halloween, weekly dinners at Buffalo Wild Wings, laser tag—to show that our chapter is unified,” Joseph said.

The leadership award is given to a chapter that displays being a community leader both on and off campus. NMSU’s chapter attended schools’ career days, built a handicap ramp, and other types of community services.

“The Star Chapter is given to a chapter that demonstrates both strong unity and leadership,” Joseph said.

The chapter gave three-minute presentations at the national conference showing pictures and relaying the results of their efforts.

In addition to these chapter awards, a number of students in the chapter received honors: Eric Ochoa, an undergrad at NMSU, won the general knowledge master’s level exam, which incorporates general knowledge questions in essay format for the master’s level.

“This was the first time one of our students won one of the two on-sight exams,” Joseph said.

Ochoa also won the Regina B. Shear Scholarship of $1,500.

Tamera Coho won the Student Achievement Award.

Devone Jackson, Rae Snyder, Erika Washburn, Taj Ebanks, and Mariana Landaverde also for amounts between $76 and $500.

Each year the conference hosts a crime-scene-investigation competition. Last year NMSU’s chapter won the competition and so, as is tradition, hosted this year’s competition.

“The CSI competition requires the host team to come up with a crime, create suspects, a motive, provide clues all leading to the murderer,” Joseph said. “The host team sits out and the other teams each take 10 minutes to investigate the scene. They don’t touch anything, they photograph everything, interview any witnesses, and they have 24 hours to solve the crime based on what they see and the interviews.”

The teams also compile crime books, including copies of all the photographs taken, an evidence log of everything seen, a diagram of the crime scene, transcripts of the interviews, and theories of how the crime happened and who committed it. The hosting team grades the crime books.

“Our team came up with a crime involving a bunch of friends who came to New Orleans for a birthday,” Joseph said. “One of the friends, who was into black magic, drugged everybody and cut the heart out of one girl, put it on her chest and while saying a power spell, drank her blood. It was very bloody.”

The team conceived of the crime in fall 2017 and refined its details until the annual conference.

“I and a student met with an LCPD detective and crime scene technician,” Joseph said. “We explained the crime and he gave us some tips, some ideas, some red herrings, and told us how to set everything up so that it would look like a real crime scene.”

Next year’s conference will take place in Baltimore and the NMSU chapter is currently performing community service, participating in social events, and fundraising for that trip.

Additionally, Joseph has been elected as a national adviser for Alpha Phi Sigma’s advisory board and the NMSU team will host a conference on April 6 at the Hotel Encanto on mental health and the criminal justice system.

More information can be found from Joseph at ajoseph@nmsu.edu and on the NMSU chapter’s website at https://crimjust.nmsu.edu/degree-programs/aps-page/.