Dr. Ed McGarrell Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

May 5, 2024

For his dedication to teaching, research, service, and advancing justice, Dr. Ed McGarrell has been recognized with the College of Social Science Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is the highest recognition given by the College.

Photo of Dr. Ed McGarrellThroughout his career, Dr. McGarrell has embodied the land-grant mission of Michigan State University. Dr. McGarrell founded the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative which partners researchers and practitioners to increase community collaboration and reduce crime. This initiative has received federal funding from the US Department of Justice for over 20 years and is credited with saving countless lives in communities across the country.

In addition to his commitment to community engagement, Dr. McGarrell has dedicated himself to mentoring the next generation of Criminal Justice scholars. Dr. McGarrell has chaired 18 dissertations and mentored dozens of masters and doctoral students – many of whom have gone on to have prestigious careers themselves.

While serving as the Director of the School of Criminal Justice, Dr. McGarrell oversaw initiatives that allowed the School to experience rapid growth in both global reputation and reach. These initiatives expanded the School’s educational footprint both on campus and online, increased training opportunities for law enforcement agencies, and enabled faculty to collaborate with researchers across the globe and work with practitioners in communities around the country.

Dr. Chris Melde, current Director of the School, says “Dr. McGarrell’s stellar career as a scholar, mentor to graduate students and faculty alike, and service to the profession over the last 30 years, strengthened the School’s national and international reputation for high quality and impactful community engaged research. Dr. McGarrell’s career exemplifies the ideals of the University and this lifetime achievement award.”

Congratulations, Dr. McGarrell – this award is well earned!



We sat down with Dr. McGarrell to discuss his career, what it means to receive this award, and his advice for anyone interested in a career in Criminal Justice research.


What initially drew you to becoming a Professor and researching Criminal Justice?

My interest in criminal justice arose out of a practicum experience at the Elmira Correctional Facility in my hometown of Elmira, New York. Although I did not appreciate it at the time, the Elmira facility had historical importance as the first correctional facility intended for young inmates with the goal of "reform", hence its original name of the Elmira Reformatory. Initially, I was able to work with institutional parole officers and later in a direct service role in a newly created mental health unit. This experience led to me applying to graduate study in criminal justice, though my plans were to earn a master's degree and then pursue a professional career. I was fortunate to have been provided the opportunity to become involved in some faculty research projects. This generated an interest in research and teaching, and I thus decided to pursue a Ph.D.  Although my research interests evolved over the years, issues related to crime, justice, victimization, and public safety, strike me as endlessly interesting from both a teaching and research perspective.


What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

A couple of thoughts come to mind. First, I have always enjoyed and been stimulated by my faculty role. I am fortunate to have found a rewarding profession. Second, the relationships that have been forged through the years. This includes relationships with faculty colleagues, with students, and with criminal justice professionals and community members that allowed me to collaborate on research-based, community-engaged endeavors. 

During a fair portion of my academic career I have served in administrative roles, including the privilege of serving as Director of the School of Criminal Justice. Maintaining a research agenda can be challenging given the demands of the Director role and thus I learned the need and the value of collaboration. I have been blessed by having a large network of faculty and student collaborators who have improved the quality of my research and enabled the pursuit of numerous research projects. Similarly, I count as friends criminal justice practitioners and community members in places like Detroit, Flint, Lansing, and beyond, who have taught me about these issues and improved my research and teaching. Seeing these relationships continue to have a positive impact on individuals, families, and communities, as well as seeing former students become leaders, has been extremely rewarding.


What does it mean to you to have received this award?

It is certainly humbling. There are so many outstanding faculty in the School of Criminal Justice and in the College of Social Science, that it is truly humbling. It is also very meaningful because it comes from my peers in social science. As faculty, all of our important work be it publications, grants, or promotions involve peer review.  Receiving this award from the recommendation of peers, makes this very rewarding.


Do you have any advice for students who are interested in a career in academia and researching criminal justice?

Take a chance and take advantage of opportunities. The key events that influenced my career came out of unexpected opportunities. It was a former baseball coach that let me know about the practicum opportunity at the Elmira Correctional facility. It was a professor asking me if I'd be interested in working on a research project that resulted me in pursuing doctoral study and finding a very satisfying career of teaching and research. When opportunities arise, it is important to take advantage, even when it may get us out of our comfort zone. When MSU offered the opportunity to move to MSU and become Director of the School of Criminal Justice, I was happy in my prior University. But, I was intrigued by the history of MSU's School of Criminal Justice and MSU's land grant mission that encouraged community-engaged research. That turned out to be an excellent decision that resulted in the collaboration and friendships with faculty, staff, and students mentioned above.