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Special Investigator Alumna Calls SJU Profs Her “Windows to the World” of Crime-Fighting

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A typical day of work is anything but typical for Deirdre Matthews ‘12G. It might entail conducting interviews, analyzing documents, testifying in court, or executing search and arrest warrants. Matthews is a Special Investigator with the City of New York, a position she has held since 2015. She is responsible for overseeing all city agencies and anyone who does business with the city to ensure integrity. She also conducts criminal investigations of city employees regarding allegation of corruption, fraud, and official misconduct and makes policy and procedure recommendations for these agencies.

Matthews got a taste of her current position as a graduate student intern from St. John’s. Robert Tillman, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and program director for the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Criminology and Justice, put her in touch with another SJU alum investigator, who offered her an internship for two semesters. Once Matthews graduated with her M.A., she was hired as a paralegal for the NYC Department of Education, and a year later took a position as Revenue Crimes Specialist for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, where she worked to uncover fraudulent tax returns and underreporting of business and personal income. She missed the kind of varied investigative work she had done as an intern, so after two years with the Department of Taxation and Finance, she moved into her current role as Special Investigator.

“When I came to St. John’s, I had no idea what I was going to do with my master’s degree. I was coming from a rural town in upstate New York with no professional connections in New York City,” said Matthews. “But I really benefited from the small classes, individual attention from the faculty, and strong alumni network. My professors wanted to see me succeed, and you realize your potential when you have a professor who takes a real interest in you.”

One of the faculty members who helped Matthews succeed was associate professor Judith Ryder, Ph.D., with whom she keeps in touch. Matthews worked with Ryder on a research project while a graduate student that studied the psychological effects of teen dating violence. They performed qualitative focus group research in four neighborhoods in Queens, NY, to determine teens’ reactions to and awareness of dating violence. The project got Matthews interested in field work, which makes up a great deal of what she does in her current position.

"Deirdre took full advantage of what the M.A. in Criminology and Justice program offers,” said Ryder. “She was engaged in the coursework and sought out a number of different internships to gain experience in the field. She also volunteered to work with me on a local community-based research project and presented results at the national meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences."

Matthews also remembers her Evaluating Criminal Justice Policies course, which taught her how to seek out information from various sources, draw conclusions from data, and think logically to investigate crimes. Her Criminological Theory course gave her perspective on deviant behavior and why criminals think the way they do, which helps her to better understand and anticipate criminal behavior now.

“The program really prepares you for your career,” said Matthews. “I recommend seeking out internships in school; it’s the best way to find your niche in your career. Also, speak with your professors. The professors at St. John’s are very knowledgeable in their field and have connections that can help you. They were my windows into the real world.”

Said Tillman, “One of the things that stands out to me about Deirdre is this: She has been great about giving back to the Criminology and Justice program. She has returned to campus several times to talk about her career and share her experiences in the job market with current students. This is the type of networking and connections between alumni and students that we try to encourage in the program.”

In addition to her M.A. from St. John’s, Matthews holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Law from Pace University.