UMSL alumna Chris Melde

(Photo courtesy of Chris Melde)

Earlier this spring, University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus Chris Melde, PhD 2007 and MA 2004 criminology and criminal justice, returned to campus for an experience that, in his words, was “nerve-racking.”

He presented on the effects of gang membership on youths at the annual conference on Youth Violence Prevention, which takes place every spring at UMSL. Melde, who teaches criminal justice at Michigan State University in East Lansing, is used to speaking in front of large groups, but this conference was different. The audience was populated with faculty members who had been Melde’s teachers and mentors throughout graduate school.

“I have so much respect for UMSL faculty and how well they’re respected in the field,” he said. “To be in front of them was surreal. They were listening and valuing something I had to say.”

Melde had previously attended the conference as a student, and it helped shape his interests in the criminology field. Now at MSU, his areas of specialty include gangs and the effects of crime on adolescent development. Melde also worked closely with the area leaders in Saginaw, Mich., a city that has lost much of its police funding due to the recession. He advised both the police and the community on ways to do more with less.

Melde said that the origins of his work with Saginaw can be traced back to UMSL, where his mentor was Professor Finn-Aage Esbensen, who specializes in evaluating prevention programs and strategies. They still collaborate and talk often.

“He’s a seasoned pro,” Esbensen said. “I’ve seen him give presentations since his first year of grad school, and he’s developed his own style. I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of very gifted, talented and motivated graduate students who have worked with me over the years. All have gone on to make me proud to have played a role in their development.”

The Conference on Youth Violence Prevention is made possible through the Des Lee Collaborative Vision, and Esbensen is the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Youth Crime and Violence. Melde said he did not realize the uniqueness of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision at UMSL until he left for another school. MSU has nothing comparable, he said, and with a student population of 48,000, MSU is three times as big but with fewer endowed chairs as UMSL.

One of the tenets of the DLCV is for the university to be in service to the community, and Esbensen had that in mind when he started the Conference on Youth Violence Prevention 12 years ago. He envisioned the conference as a way to bring state of the art scholarly research in the field of youth violence to those working on the front lines with at-risk youth in St. Louis.

Esbensen said that his creating the conference was in large part a response to a trend he saw in law enforcement, government and nonprofits. He noted that leaders would attend conferences and then implement new policy based off the information presented. But the science and reasoning behind those changes don’t always get communicated down to those who have to bear the brunt of the organization’s change. Esbensen tailored the conference to bridge this gap, specifically keeping in mind teachers, police officers and others who work directly with  at-risk youth but who may not have a hand in creating policy.

This story was written by Ryan Krull, a UMSL student pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing.

The UMSL Experience

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a second year student in the MFA program at UMSL. His fiction and journalism has appeared online and in print.
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