Criminal Justice: Taryn VanderPyl Q&A

Dr. VanderPyl smiling at camera, color set to black and white.

Dr. VanderPyl is an assistant professor for WOU’s Criminal Justice Sciences Division. 


What is your research/area of focus? What classes are you currently teaching?

I am proud to be a big nerd! I love research and teaching, so I could go on and on about both.

I am a qualitative researcher, so I spend a lot of time doing interviews and analyzing what folks choose to share with me. It is important to me to prioritize the voices of people directly affected by the criminal and juvenile justice systems rather than my own.

Lately, I have been looking at how folks are treated inside prisons and what we could do to improve rehabilitation instead of just punishment. If we make people “worse” while they are incarcerated (which we tend to do), then we are making society less safe since they are more likely to reoffend when they get out. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Treating people badly because we are mad at them or afraid of them does not solve anything. In my research, I am learning more about things that go on behind prison walls and how we can make the time spent “inside” used for the better.

This term, I am teaching Corrections and some research methods courses. I have also taught Youth Crime and Society, Youth Gangs in American Society, and Victimology. With each of these courses, I make it a priority to see the issues from multiple perspectives so students can get a better understanding of what is going on in each area of the criminal and juvenile justice fields.


What has been your favorite class to teach?

It is hard to pick just one class as my favorite! I really enjoy them all. Youth Crime and Society is fun because I get to expose students to a view of the juvenile justice system that often changes their minds about the “bad” kids involved. Victimology is a powerful class because we look at not only how victims are treated in the system, but also how to avoid becoming victimized yourself. I also like Corrections because I have a lot of experience working with guys in custody at Oregon State Penitentiary and I get to bring their perspectives into the class. I also love teaching any research methods courses because I love conducting and writing up my research.


How long have you been at WOU?

I am new to WOU. I just started teaching here last summer (June 2019).


Why did you choose to work at WOU?

I chose to join the faculty at WOU because of the exciting work I saw happening in the new Criminal Justice Sciences Division! It was clear this was a place where I would get to engage in innovative teaching and research with lots of support.


What is your educational background? Where else have you worked?

My background is actually in Special Education. I was a high school teacher and foster parent, which led to me learning about the overrepresentation of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system. This led me to focus my work on that part of the system, which later expanded to working with adults in the criminal justice system as well. I taught for three years at Arizona State University in the special education program, then
another three years at Pacific University in the Criminal Justice, Law and Society program.


Do you have a favorite anecdote from your time at WOU?

I think I am too new at WOU to have a favorite anecdote yet, but I can tell you I have loved my time here! The students repeatedly impress me, inspire me, and make me laugh. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching here already. I also feel grateful to work with faculty who are passionate about what they do, whether it is teaching and being there for students, doing research that will make a difference for people in the system, or helping those who work in multiple areas of criminal justice. I look forward to many more years at WOU where I will collect lots of favorite memories!


Favorite place to grab lunch or coffee?

I don’t know yet since I am so new here. I am open to suggestions!


What’s an average day at work for you like?

I am on campus only two days a week and those days are very busy! Between teaching classes, holding office hours, and attending meetings, the time flies by.


If you’ve been published, where?

Here is a list of my recent publications.

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