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Ryan Scrivens

A smiling man

Like a lot of teenagers, Ryan Scrivens got into trouble in high school. Unlike many of them, the Ontario Tech double graduate (BA, MSc) became curious about his rights and followed that path to a PhD in criminology and an assistant professorship at Michigan State University.

“I noticed quickly that there were a lot of moving parts in the criminal justice system,” says Scrivens from his home office. “I saw it as a place of never-ending possibility.”

Scrivens began his pursuit of knowledge by earning a diploma in Law and Security Administration from Durham College, which led to an opportunity to earn a BA in criminology at Ontario Tech in only two additional years.

“I thought of going into law enforcement, but first I wanted to have a better sense of the criminal justice system,” says Scrivens, so he continued on to earn his master’s degree. Professor Barbara Perry, a renowned expert in hate crimes, took him on as a graduate student. He explored how police officers responded to hate/bias-motivated crimes against women and became passionate about doing research.

“From there, I knew I wanted to carry on with academia, focusing on research that had long-term, pragmatic implications and impact,” he says. “Ontario Tech taught me the critical thinking skills to navigate complex social issues – something that goes a long way in developing a research project.”

Scrivens entered a criminology PhD program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia with an initial interest in how police officers responded to hate crimes. During this time, he also delved into right-wing extremism in Canada as part of a project Perry was heading. He later examined how right-wing extremists used the Internet for his dissertation and has since become a respected expert in the field. He employs a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods, using computer science and big data techniques to understand online behaviours to determine the most appropriate ways of responding to and combatting violent extremism.

“I still collaborate with Barb Perry, and I owe Ontario Tech a lot,” he says. “I was part of the first cohort in the university’s master’s program in criminology. The professors gave us experiences that I didn’t have again until later in my PhD. Equally important, the professors at Ontario Tech gave us a lot of their time, and they were very open and honest with us about the challenges of working in an academic setting. They didn’t sugar-coat things, and I appreciated that.

“The department built a culture of inclusivity that was inspiring. They were also open about their struggles in the field, and as I result, I am willing to share my own vulnerabilities with my students.”

He also lauds the bridging program and its adjunct faculty, people who work in the crime prevention field.

“It gave me a pragmatic and nuanced understanding of the challenges they face,” Scrivens says.

Interestingly, the students in his cyberterrorism courses fit the same profile: local and national law enforcement and intelligence officials, military men and women and many others – people who have day-to-day experience with the subject. Scrivens’ life has come full circle and he’s enjoying the ride.