Mari Pierces works with a group of students in a classroom.

Dr. Mari Pierce: Opinions matter

Criminal justice professor loves being at a small campus and working with students who aren't afraid to voice their opinions.

Born and raised in Oregon, Dr. Mari Pierce, associate professor of criminal justice, has become an avid traveler.

To date she's traveled to 44 states and four countries.

With a record like that, students may wonder why she chose to work at a campus in western Pennsylvania.

“I love the idea of being a part of a small campus that’s a part of a huge University,” she said. Pierce became familiar with the Pittsburgh area when she attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania to earn her Ph.D. in criminology.

As a student, Pierce liked one-on-one interactions with faculty and staff. As a professor, she wants her students to benefit from those kinds of connections, which are common at Penn State Beaver.

Her interest in teaching began at a young age. She saw how her father, a retired criminal justice professor, had a flexible schedule and enjoyed interacting with students.

Pierce took a few criminal justice classes as an undergraduate and liked them, so she decided to earn her master’s degree in the subject. While working as a child abuse investigator for the state of Oregon, she was offered the opportunity to teach a course at a local university.

“I was hooked!” she said. “I found that I really loved teaching, and then I pursued my Ph.D.”
She said she loves the field of administration of justice because most students come into the courses with preconceived opinions and minimal facts.

“No matter what people know about criminal justice, they always have an opinion of something relating to it,” she said.

Pierce stresses the importance of students researching information to back up their opinions.

“I enjoy seeing students learn facts to support their opinions, find that those facts challenge their opinions, and then struggle through that process,” she said.

Pierce is the the midst of her own research process. She’s analyzing the transcripts of every death-eligible case in the state of Oregon from 2000-2010, looking for factors that might have influenced jurors or patterns where you wouldn’t expect to find them. The hope is that her research could impact the way future cases are tried.

“There’s a misconception that sentencing is objective because of guidelines, but there’s a lot of subjectivity,” Pierce said. “Nowhere is that more apparent than in death penalty cases. It’s the only place where the jury decides sentencing.”


Ph.D. in Criminology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Master of Criminal Justice, New Mexico State University

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Whitman College