Skip to main content

New Master's in Criminology, Criminal Justice to Enhance Opportunities for UTEP Students

Last Updated on May 01, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 01, 2019

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

Fatima Ceniceros has a reputation for being honest. The only person she tried to fool was herself when she started at The University of Texas at El Paso as a civil engineering major. It took her two years to realize that she was on the wrong path.

The first-generation college student reviewed her situation. Among her strengths were interests in reading, writing, political science and physical fitness. Her family knows her for her directness, transparency and opinions. She is the driver who slows down when the traffic light turns yellow.

Her father suggested she investigate UTEP's Department of Criminal Justice, and she found her calling. Ceniceros, who participated in internships with U.S. Probation and the El Paso Municipal Court Juvenile Case Management Program, said she expects to graduate in fall 2019. Her initial plan was to get a job, possibly as a juvenile probation officer, and eventually move to a federal law enforcement agency. Today she has another option, and she thanked UTEP for it.

Ceniceros expects to apply for the department's new Master of Science degree in criminology and criminal justice (CCJ), which launches in fall 2019. This will be the University's 75th master's degree. The Lower Valley resident plans to begin the program in spring 2020. She said a graduate degree would help her get a job.

"Having a master's (degree) will make me look like a stronger candidate," she said. "I am entering a competitive field and this will put me in a better position. I want my education to stand out."

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) approved the new degree plan in December 2018. The department expects regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools by July 2019. Interested potential students can learn more and apply at

Leaders in the Department of Criminal Justice have pushed for this advanced degree for years because of the growing need based on job growth among justice agencies such as courts, corrections and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in Texas and New Mexico, and because of the increase in minimum education requirements for entry-level positions. A graduate degree also will benefit practitioners interested in being promoted to supervisory or administrative positions.

"We're eager and excited to get started," said Ted Curry, Ph.D., associate professor of criminal justice and the department's graduate director. "We think it will have broad appeal."

The department's graduate degree is unique in that its curriculum has a border twist. For example, the study of crime focuses on immigration, transnationalism, and border and national security. There also is a course about homeland security.

"There is a wide range of courses that deal with crime, cops, courts and corrections, but we certainly play to our strengths of being on the border," Curry said. "Border security issues are more paramount than they would be in Kansas."

The new degree plan will have two tracks. One will serve those who may want to become researchers or educators. The other will be for those working with offenders or victims in a justice-related organization, such as treatment providers, corrections or law enforcement agencies, and who are seeking to advance their careers. Each track will enhance the department's research capabilities, said Leanne Alarid, Ph.D., chair and professor of criminal justice.

Alarid, who led the push for the new degree, added that the program would primarily be face-to-face, but also would offer online courses. She said the department proposed to hire at least three new tenure-track assistant professors.

The "criminology" side of the degree prepares individuals to identify problems through criminological theories and policies, and to be aware of varied social issues that contribute to the way society defines crime and deviance. The "criminal justice" part helps students in developing and implementing social and crime policies, responses, and solutions within a variety of justice-related agencies.

The addition of the master's degree is a big step for the department, which started as a program under the Department of Political Science in 1972. The THECB approved UTEP's bachelor's degree in criminal justice on Oct. 31, 1973. The program became an independent department five years later. In 1979, the department added five graduate courses under the University's Master of Public Administration program.

The University restructured the department in 1982 and it reverted to a program under the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. Four years later, the University offered a minor in criminal justice. In 2012, the program became a department again. Its chair was Mary Cuadrado, Ph.D., who started the initial inquiries into acquiring a master's degree.

Alarid and Curry said the faculty eventually would like to see the University offer a doctoral degree in CCJ. Alarid said that it is a highly marketable degree plan nationally. The two closest institutions that offer the CCJ doctorate are at The University of Texas at Dallas and Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She said her department would track enrollment and graduation rates of master's students before they embark on acquiring the doctoral degree plan.