Stamps Scholar wants to use data science to solve social problems 

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A young woman in an orange blazer.
Alana Murray

Alana Murray came into Mercer University as a criminal justice major and took on a second major in cybersecurity after noticing a lot of overlap in the two fields. Now, the junior is preparing for a career where she hopes to use technology and data science to help solve social problems. 

Murray, a Stamps Scholar from Cumming, discovered an interest in criminal justice while taking classes at her high school, which led her to volunteer at juvenile courts. 

“I wanted to be a part of the changes I wanted to see,” she said.

During a tour of Mercer, she found everything she was looking for in a college. Through her coursework, she learned about the intersection of crime and society and was introduced to information science. 

“I started wondering what technology is used in criminal justice,” said Murray, who is also in the University’s honors program. “Criminal justice is the study of not just crime but the factors that lead to crime and how our society perpetuates crime. As I took my first information science class, I saw that it’s a different layer of connectivity.”

Technology has perpetuated crimes, but it also has the potential to improve the criminal justice system, she said. Murray saw how the growing field of data science could provide better understanding of criminal justice issues, which made her want to get involved in research. 

Last summer, Murray worked in the crime analytics lab at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte through a Research Experience for Undergraduates with the National Science Foundation. Using a data science lens, she researched police violence, contributing factors, and the unique relationship between citizens and police. She had the opportunity to meet with officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and see how they use technology in their work. 

Now, Murray is working on her own research at Mercer. She wants to use large-scale statistics to develop safer policing strategies, and she hopes her research can contribute to conversations related to societal issues. As a Spanish minor, she thinks her language skills will help her be a better criminal justice advocate.

“I’m looking at technology being used by police and how it overlaps with the structural disadvantage of minority communities,” she said. “I think it’s important that the public is able to understand the technology that police are using to police them. I’ve always been big on data transparency.” 

Murray, who also has an interest in legal research, is involved in Mercer’s Black Law Students Association. She also is a Mercer Ambassador for Alumni Services and a member of the Undergraduate Honor Council and Office of Student Conduct Resolution. She participated in the computer science-themed Mercer On Mission trip to South Africa two years ago and hopes to go on additional study abroad experiences. 

“Alana is a great student that is always looking for opportunities for growth,” said Dr. Johnathan Yerby, associate professor of computer science. “She’s brave enough to answer the hard questions that nobody knows the answers to yet, and everyone gets the benefit from learning from her preparation for her studies.”

After completing her undergraduate degrees, Murray wants to study data science and public policy in graduate school. She said there is a need for more professionals in both data science and criminal justice. 

 

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