UNCG Campus Weekly

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UNCG undergraduate researcher goes to Capitol Hill

Photo of Merritt and Westervelt are joined by an exoneree wrongfully convicted of killing a prison guard, as Merritt makes poster presentationUNCG honors student Tiffany Merritt and her mentor, Dr. Saundra Westervelt of the UNCG Department of Sociology, took their research to Capitol Hill last month. Merritt’s honors project, titled “Addressing the Aftermath of a Wrongful Conviction in North Carolina: Policy vs. Practice,” examines the implementation of the North Carolina compensation policy for NC exonerees. Her research reveals that only 44 percent of NC exonerees actually receive compensation.

The project was one of 60 from across the country selected from over 500 applications for the annual “Posters on the Hill” event sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. Merritt and Westervelt traveled to Washington, D.C. April 22-23, where they discussed their work with two U.S. senators and the staffers for a third senator and two U.S. congressmen. They also met with White House staffers from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) is dedicated to supporting and promoting high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship. CUR’s Posters on the Hill is a national showcase that emphasizes the positive impacts of undergraduate research experiences for the U.S. Congress.

Merritt found the experience remarkable, as she presented to governmental officials in the nation’s capital. “Especially when I think about my roots. I come from a small island called Wrangell in Alaska. When I say small I mean 1,800 people and no street lights.”

She enrolled at UNCG in 2011. She took up Chinese as a minor and pursued her criminology concentration, graduating in the fall of 2014.

“As I learned more about criminology, I realized the criminal justice system was not what I had expected – that a lot of injustice existed within the system itself that needs addressing. I began doing research on exonerees because I needed extra coursework to turn into the (UNCG Lloyd International) Honors College to receive disciplinary honors in Sociology. Luckily I had Dr. Westervelt who is a champion in this area and got me really fired up about the aftermath of exonerees.”

She is currently working for a private company helping International students become successful college students. “I hope to start graduate school at UNCG in January 2016, and eventually I hope to be working at the forefront of exonerees reentry services and compensation, whether that be working for a non-profit or from the political angle.”

Visual: Merritt and Westervelt are joined by an exoneree wrongfully convicted of killing a prison guard, as Merritt makes poster presentation