Alida Merlo, professor of criminology
and criminal justice at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has been selected as the 2020–21 IUP Distinguished University Professor.
“This is well-deserved honor,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said. “Dr. Merlo is nationally known for her scholarship in the field of juvenile justice policy, and she brings her passion for this work to her students at all levels as a dedicated and active
mentor. She’s a respected author and researcher and continues to blaze trails for women in her discipline. She has also been active in social equity efforts, including bringing alumni to campus to speak to current students on this important topic.”
Merlo joined the IUP community in 1995 as a faculty member and was promoted to the rank of professor in 1999. She served as coordinator of the graduate program in Criminology at IUP’s Monroeville Center (now Pittsburgh East) from 1995 to 2002 and from 2007 to 2012. She came to IUP from Westfield State College in Massachusetts. Prior to becoming a faculty member there, she worked in the Mahoning County Juvenile Court in Youngstown,
“It is an honor to be selected the Distinguished University Professor for 2020–21,” Merlo said. “I am fortunate to have such wonderful colleagues and to teach students who inspire me. IUP fosters and supports research, teaching, and service.”
During her tenure as Distinguished University Professor, she will do research to assess current educational programs offered for delinquent youth, and to explore implications of the 2019 legislation that authorized trauma-informed education in Pennsylvania
“I look forward to pursuing research on youth in out-of-home placements and to sharing it with my students and colleagues,” she said. “I anticipate that this research will identify characteristics of successful programs or strategies that can be emulated.
They can help inform policy and provide a blueprint for other juvenile justice systems to follow. It could be the beginning of a new era in education,” Merlo said.
In 44 years as a faculty member (24 of them at IUP), Merlo has taught more than 4,800 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“I continue to enjoy teaching diverse populations of undergraduate and graduate students,” Merlo said. “I have worked to increase students’ knowledge and enthusiasm for the field by developing courses dealing with youth and the justice system, teaching
on the undergraduate and graduate level, training correctional staff, lecturing, publishing, and working with agencies and organizations for children and youth. I want my students to develop a passion for the discipline and the field of criminal justice,
and I strive to improve students’ critical thinking and oral communication skills and their interpersonal awareness. I endeavor to provide various opportunities for students to excel, and I try to make the classroom experience inclusive and respectful,”
She administers the department’s internship program, including researching and identifying new placement opportunities.
She has chaired nine dissertation committees at IUP and has served on another 12. Her most recent IUP PhD graduate, Nathan Kruis, was selected to receive the 2020 Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Outstanding Dissertation Award. She also has been active
with the university’s McNair Scholars program and is the 2014 recipient of the College of Health and Human Services Outstanding Teacher Award.
She actively mentors junior faculty members to help them in navigating academia. Her on-going commitment to mentoring was recognized by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award and the Academy’s 2012 Minority Mentor Grant
Award, received with IUP criminology and criminal justice faculty member Bitna Kim. She was an invited presenter for pre-tenure faculty in 2016, sharing strategies newer faculty could utilize to find mentors on campus, regionally, nationally, and
internationally, to improve teaching capabilities, to excel in departmental and university service, to pursue academic excellence, to establish a research agenda, and to enhance their engagement with IUP.
Two former graduate students who became faculty members in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Slippery Rock University established an award in her honor, the Alida V. Merlo Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award, which is presented
annually at Slippery Rock University.
Merlo’s writing—which includes seven co-authored or co-edited books, 22 book chapters, 31 journal articles, 14 invited lectures, and more than 117 conference presentations—examines and assesses the transformation of the juvenile justice system and criminal
justice policy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with an emphasis on the role of media, ideology, and politics. These works have elevated the level of discourse and influenced the field.
Merlo received the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Fellow Award recognizing her contributions to justice education and scholarship. She was elected to serve as president of the Academy for 1999 to 2000, only the third woman to be elected to the position,
and was honored by the organization with the Founder’s Award for outstanding service.
“In my work nationally, I have made juvenile policy a priority,” Merlo said. “I have worked to guide generations of scholars and practitioners. I argue for a more compassionate, trauma-informed approach in dealing with youth who are often victims of maltreatment
prior to their involvement in delinquency.”
Merlo also has been active in providing service to IUP and to her department.
In order to help create an inclusive environment at IUP, in the aftermath of a racist social media post in fall 2019, she invited Kareem Jordan, a three-degree graduate of IUP and associate professor at American University, to present a program at IUP
co-sponsored by the IUP Department of Political Science; it was attended by 400 students.
As chair of the Speakers’ Committee for her department, she coordinates bringing distinguished academics in the field to IUP to strengthen the reputation of the university and department while enriching the lives of students. She also coordinates the
annual Alumni Career Panel. This program allows students to learn firsthand about career possibilities, begin to formulate a plan, and have an opportunity to network with professionals in the field. It also affords faculty and alumni an opportunity
Since 1997, she has served as chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy Qualifier Committee, which creates, develops, and grades qualifier exams that are administered twice a year.
She has been involved in IUP’s Graduate and Undergraduate Scholars Forum as a judge for graduate student posters and presentations since 2011. She served on the
first IUP Graduate Scholars Forum Committee that developed the format for the forum, drafted the call for proposals, identified judges, solicited participants, and helped with the events.
Merlo is the departmental representative for the Service Committee of the College of Health and Human Services, which held its first clothing drive and collection for the IUP Food Pantry and Help Center in fall 2019.
Merlo was inducted into IUP’s Phi Kappa Phi chapter in 1998. She won the University Senate Research Award for Student/Faculty Research in 1997–98.
She earned a PhD in sociology from Fordham University, a master of science degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Youngstown State University.
Each year, the President's Office recognizes one faculty member with the Distinguished University Professor Award, choosing from a field of many exemplary faculty in an extremely competitive process.
The honored faculty member must hold the rank of full professor; hold a doctorate or other terminal degree; possess a record of outstanding teaching, quality research/scholarly activities, and university service; and show active and demonstrable engagement in research/scholarly activity that advances his or her discipline or its pedagogy.
The Distinguished University Professor Award, established in 1988, brings recipients a grant and reduced teaching load for one year to allow them to dedicate more time to research/scholarship, as well as other benefits.