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Fairmont State students win big at Alpha Phi Sigma conference Impact
Fairmont State News

Fairmont State students win big at Alpha Phi Sigma conference

Fairmont State Epsilon Iota cohort at Alpha Phi Sigma conferenceFairmont State University’s chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society returned from the annual Alpha Phi Sigma conference with 11 wins, including a first place win in the crime scene competition. Chapter president Carissa Russell led her team to a victory in what many consider the conference’s most challenging competition.

Honor students traveled to Chicago to attend the three-day conference, during which they participated in criminal justice contests and attended seminars on current topics.

Alpha Phi Sigma was established as a criminal justice honor society in 1942 to recognize the academic excellence of undergraduate and graduate students of criminal justice, and Juris Doctor students. Today, the national organization has more than 150 chapters around the country.

The Fairmont State University chapter, Epsilon Iota, began in 1982. To gain entry into the honor society, a student must have a minimum GPA of 3.2 on a 4.0 scale and be in the top 35 percent of their class. Since its inception, the Epsilon Iota chapter has continued to grow.

Eight students from Fairmont State attended this year’s conference, along with two Fairmont State criminal justice professors and one alumni mentor.

Epsilon Iota Chapter 2024 Conference Participants 

  • Carissa Russell president, Fairmont, W.Va. 
  • Cheyenne Frederick, vice president and treasurer, Fairmont, W.Va. 
  • Abigail Lint, secretary, Pittsburgh, Pa. 
  • Taylor Williamson, historian and social media, Buckhannon, W.Va. 
  • Matthew Coombs, St. Louis, Mo. 
  • Kylie Croston, Morgantown, W.Va. 
  • Jennifer Curtis, Panama City, Fla. 
  • Nathaniel Whetsell, Elkins, W.Va. 

Advisor and Alumni Participants 

  • Dr. Jeri Kirby, advisor  
  • Dr. Joshua Smallridge, advisor 
  • Rebecca Turner, alumni 

In addition to the team’s win in the crime scene competition, Fairmont State students swept the graduate paper category. First place went to Taylor Williamson; second place to Cheyenne Frederick; and third place to Carissa Russell.

Two team members placed in the knowledge examination: Matt Coombs placed second for the undergraduate exam, and Taylor Williamson placed second for the graduate exam.

Placing second in the quiz bowl competition were team members Matt Coombs, Cheyenne Frederick, Carissa Russell and Taylor Williamson. Attendance scholarships were won by Kylie Croston, Abigal Lint and Nathaniel Whetsell.

Alumna Rebecca Turner created a design that won the team first place in the T-shirt design competition.

“Our students came home with 11 scholarships at the national level,” said Dr. Jeri Kirby, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Fairmont State. “They proved their knowledge of criminal justice throughout the three days of competition.”

Despite setbacks during the pandemic, the Epsilon Iota chapter has found its footing once again and excelled during competition.

“I am so proud of our team coming together and achieving 11 wins at the Alpha Phi Sigma National Conference, especially winning the crime scene competition,” said Russell, who serves as Chapter President and joined Alpha Phi Sigma during her sophomore year. “I am proud of our team and how we rebounded after Covid-19. It wasn’t easy, but we’ve gained experience and developed solidarity, which has made us a stronger team.”

“Our chapter has a long legacy of conference success stories going back decades,” said Dr. Joshua Smallridge, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and chair of Fairmont State’s Institutional Review Board. “Our students have lived up to that legacy and shown time and time again that they can compete and win against the very best in the nation.”

This year’s theme was wrongful convictions, which can be a hot topic among law enforcement professionals. Students listened to the stories of two men who were convicted of murder and later exonerated.

The speakers were James Kluppelberg and Timmy Donald.

Kluppelberg was convicted for setting a fire that killed a woman and her five children. Despite numerous flaws in the prosecution’s case, Kluppelberg was sentenced to life without parole. He served 25 years in prison and filed countless petitions before being exonerated in 2012.

Timmy Donald was charged with first-degree murder and two counts of armed robbery despite a lack of physical or forensic evidence. He was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison and spent 24 years in prison before being exonerated.

For students entering the field of law enforcement, the stories were solemn reminders that meticulous police work is paramount. Students were reminded of the nuances in criminal justice and the importance of strict adherence to established procedures.

Because Fairmont State won the crime scene competition this year, they will develop and administer next year’s competition, which will be held in Denver, Colorado.