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NMSU criminal justice honor society earns multiple awards at national conference

The bathtub in the hotel room was filled with water. Wine glasses were strewn across the room. A note scribbled in Portuguese sat on the table. Two ?dead? bodies were also discovered inside the room.



Alpha Chi Alpha at the Alpha Phi Sigma National Conference. From left to right: Kris Richey, Sam Lauer, Kat Wurschum, Jessica Gonzales, Xenia Lopez, Anissa Baldonado, Bingo (the mascot), Andrea Joseph, Danielle Covolo, Marco Ortigoza, Deborah Blalock, Juan Castillo and Martin Hernandez (rear with hat)

This was the mock crime scene that New Mexico State University criminal justice students analyzed to win first place in the Crime Scene Investigation category. It was one of seven top awards the group earned at the Alpha Phi Sigma national conference March 2-6 in Orlando, Florida.

Eleven students from Alpha Chi Alpha, the NMSU chapter of the national criminal justice honor society, attended the conference.

?They really wanted this win; we came in second last year,? said Andrea Joseph, faculty advisor and criminal justice professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. ?I couldn?t be more proud of their commitment and dedication.?

The students had only 10 minutes to survey the crime scene and record the evidence found ? some of which was planted there to be misleading.

?We were the last group to see the crime scene, so we had a little bit less time than other schools,? said Debra Blalock, who will graduate in May and plans to attend graduate school at NMSU. ?We were trying to fill all the events on a timeline and see which ones were at what time to make the story flow.?

To prepare for the competition, the chapter worked with the NMSU Police Department to learn more about the important elements of a crime book and the quality of work that goes into it.

?You have the witness statement, you have what the officer tells you and you take pictures of the evidence. That?s all you get,? said Xenia Lopez, a graduate student. ?Our biggest strength was organization and presentation.?

The group takes the information and brainstorms theories that fit the evidence. Team members help each other by poking holes in each of their theories until they have a solid idea of what they believe happened at the scene. The mock crime turned out to be a human trafficking case.


The topic of human trafficking won the group an award for Theme of the Year for the third year in a row. They credit the win to a symposium the organization held on campus in February. Presenters included representatives of the FBI, Homeland Security, the district attorney?s office and other guest speakers from the region and nationwide.

Alpha Chi Alpha also won a Goals Award for Community Service, Unity and Leadership for the third straight year. Throughout the year, students completed community service, which included preparing child-friendly goody bags donated to the police department.

When police remove a child from a situation, such as a domestic dispute, that child typically leaves with nothing but the clothes on their back, Joseph explained. The goody bags contain small toys, coloring books and toiletries such as a toothbrush and toothpaste.

?Year after year, the students in our criminal justice honor society never fail to impress me with their accomplishments on a national level,? said Christa Slaton, dean of NMSU?s College of Arts and Sciences. ?I credit Andrea Joseph for her leadership in advising and inspiring these outstanding criminal justice students and applaud their dedication to excellence.?

The group also won Best Website and the Yearbook Competition for documenting the groups? activities throughout the year. NMSU graduate Nathan Jimerson won the Alumni Award for his continued involvement in the NMSU chapter.

For the fourth year in a row, an NMSU student was named Member of the Year. Marco Ortigoza, chapter president, was selected to receive the honor from among members in 266 active chapters.

In addition to presenting papers and competing against other groups, members had the opportunity to attend lectures and discussion panels where they could learn from people engaged in various aspects of the criminal justice system. They heard from a number of speakers, including a former Orlando police chief, a panel of people who had been wrongly convicted and a group of individuals who served time in prison and were adjusting to living in a community.

?It?s interesting to hear how people who had been convicted for 40-plus years and since been released are trying to get back into society. We don?t think about it. It changes your view on things,? said Katjana Wurschum, a senior graduating in May.

The NMSU group was divided into two teams and competed against each other and other chapters in the Knowledge Bowl category, which quizzes members on policing, procedural law, theory and the history of Alpha Phi Sigma. The teams took third and fourth place.

The trip wasn?t all work, as students had some time to enjoy local attractions. This, explained community service officer and graduate student Martin Hernandez, gave members a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level, and helped build camaraderie.

?It was a good way to get to know each other,? he said. ?Now we?re all friends, we?ve gotten a lot closer.?

Joseph agrees this kind of experience helps the students work together as a team.

?The pillars of Alpha Phi Sigma are scholarship, unity, service and leadership, and they take all those very seriously,? Joseph said. ?They?re a family.?