WHAT THEY LEARNED: Katie Balmer ’15

After sitting in on sessions of Veteran’s Court during a summer internship, the political science major wanted to explore “specialty courts” further in her senior thesis.

Two summers ago Katie Balmer interned for her local courthouse and discovered that her home county (Delaware County, Pa.) had something called Veteran’s Court, a special system created in 2011 to address the increasing number of veterans entering the criminal justice system after serving their country in the war on terrorism.

“I was able to sit in on a Veteran’s Court,” says Balmer, “and I saw how veterans, depending on their crime, [could] avoid jail time and receive treatment instead.”

Because many of the veterans charged with crimes are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) sustained in combat, Veteran’s Court seeks to provide substance abuse and mental health treatment to the defendants while balancing the interest of the community in punishing, rehabilitating, and deterring them from committing future crimes. But Veteran’s Court isn’t the only type of “specialty court” that exists; there are similar problem-solving court sessions that seek to address the mental health or substance abuse issues underlying criminal behavior for other populations, such as the homeless.

Balmer, a political science major with a concentration in peace, justice, and human rights, was intrigued by these courts and decided to investigate them further for her senior thesis, “Alternative Justice: Modeling the genesis of U.S. Specialty Courts.”

How did your advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and interpret your results?
My thesis advisor was [Assistant Professor of Political Science] Zach Oberfield. Zach was an invaluable part of my thesis process. He helped me chose which specialty courts to analyze and guided me in figuring out what elements to use in my analysis. Zach was a tough, honest, and overall great advisor. My thesis was much better than it would have been if Zach had not advised me.

What did you learn from working on your thesis?
I learned how to work everyday on the same thing and how to manage stress and frustration while working on a large project.

Did your thesis help guide your future career path at all?
My plan for the near future is to begin work at a financial investment company. However, I am very interested in law and human rights, so I am leaning towards going to law school in a few years.


 Photo: (cc) Matt Wade

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.