Research Projects Underway for First Hilbert Graduate Students

Hamburg’s revitalization efforts, prison gang misconduct among range of topics
Release Date:
May 15, 2012
Matt Heidt,

HAMBURG, N.Y. -- Almost one year into Hilbert College’s first graduate programs getting underway, students in the master of public administration and master of science in criminal justice administration degree tracks are at a pivotal point that integrates classroom learning with real-world professional practice – master’s research projects.

From the 24 students enrolled in the programs, a breadth of discipline-focused topics are being explored and researched. Here, two from the college’s first cohort of students share insight into their ambitious master’s projects, a capstone experience which they’ve been preparing for since starting the programs in Fall 2011.
Erin Carmina ‘13
Master of Public Administration Program
Over the past six years, close to 40 businesses in the Village of Hamburg, located just up the road from Hilbert’s campus, have benefitted from nearly $800,000 in matching grants from the New York Main Street Grant Program. The state initiative is designed to revitalize mixed-use neighborhood commercial districts and historic downtown areas through façade renovations, building upgrades and streetscape enhancements. Pictured here, Carmina stands outside the Hamburg Palace Theatre, one of the businesses that benefitted from the Main Street Grant Program.
Erin Carmina stands outside the Hamburg Palace Theatre, one of the businesses that benefitted from the Main Street Grant Program.
With the revitalization work completed in the village, MPA student Erin Carmina’s master’s project is examining an issue that’s at the heart of the Main Street grant: the financial impact of the improvement program on the Route 62/Main-Buffalo Streets corridor (the area targeted by the revitalization effort).
“Overall, the intention with the grant monies was to bring people back to Main Street in the village. I’ll be looking at whether the rehabilitation and repurposing work has been effective in bringing new life to the village center and if the efforts have strengthened the economic vitality of the neighborhood retail district,” said Carmina.
A native Western New Yorker, Carmina moved back to the area in 2008 after living in Virginia following graduation from SUNY Potsdam where she earned a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and anthropology. Now working as office manager at her father’s architectural firm, Carmina Wood Morris, P.C., studying the improvement project in Hamburg village is opening up many doors for this self-professed “novice” in this type of renewal work.
“Being involved in this master’s project is giving me opportunities to interact and network with many individuals I otherwise wouldn’t have contact with, including government officials, business owners, village residents and other constituents. It’s still hard to believe that I’m involved in such an amazing project and that it’s actually become a reality,” said Carmina, who resides in West Seneca. “In the process, I’m learning a great deal about the village while also fine-tuning skills that will serve me well professionally.”
In some ways, added Carmina, the graduate project has sparked her interest in urbanization movements and renewal beyond the village. “Working in downtown Buffalo,” she said, “I’ve become involved in the 500 Block Association, a group that’s pursuing ways to improve that section of the city. I’m connecting what I’m learning with my work and my role in the community.”
Ultimately, explained Carmina, “results from my master’s project will be presented to the Hamburg village so they have valid, tangible data on the revitalization project, which hopefully will assist them with future planning efforts.
“The MPA program,” she added, “has been outstanding from the start. When I came back to this area, I did a lot of soul-searching about what I wanted to study in graduate school. I wanted to do something more and I’m thrilled to be enrolled in Hilbert’s program. Whatever option I pursue after graduation, I know my degree and this master’s project experience will help me reach my professional goal."
Randy Zimpher ‘13
Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration Program
As disciplinary lieutenant at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Western New York’s Chautauqua County, MSCJA student Randy Zimpfer is well experienced in dealing with prison gang misconduct and violence. Yet, with his 25-plus years in the field, the corrections veteran is acutely aware of the implications that can result from labeling an inmate as a gang member when they first enter the system, a practice not applied by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. 
For his project, Randy Zimpfer is using a labeling theory developed by Howard S. Becker, shown in background.
“With a gang-validation system, once an inmate is labeled a gang member then the inmate tends to exhibit a self-fulfilling prophecy by engaging in more disciplinary misconduct. However, New York State uses a behavior-based model in which gang members are not segregated in the prison population according to their gang affiliation and are held accountable for their own behavior,” explained Zimpfer, who, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Hilbert in 2010, returned to the college last fall for graduate studies.
Having such a foundational, professionally-based knowledge on this topic is making Zimpfer’s master’s project on the labeling theory and prison gang misconduct all the more relevant and useful to him in his day-to-day responsibilities at the correctional facility. For his project, Randy Zimpfer is using a labeling theory developed by Howard S. Becker (shown in background in above photo). “I see this project as furthering my professional duties,” said Zimpfer, an Irving resident.
“In the end,” he added, “my goal is to put the message out to corrections systems in other states, like California and Texas, that a gang-validation system can actually lead to more disciplinary issues, and, at the same time, reinforce the positive outcomes from using a system like the one used in New York. Lack of a gang label generally means less prison misconduct.”
In addition to enhancing his professional work, Zimpfer’s master project is focusing on an area he anticipates will benefit criminal justice students at a local community college where he teaches corrections and a one-credit course on gangs in the criminal justice system. The research he is conducting, Zimpfer said, will strengthen and broaden his background in ways that he can then “use to augment the material he is teaching in the classroom.”
That teaching experience is something he hopes to one day bring to the Hilbert campus. “Since returning for graduate studies at Hilbert, I’ve realized how much I really missed being at the college and having that connection. In the long-term, I’d like to give back to the college by sharing my educational and professional experience with future students who will one day enter the field.”

Hilbert College, located in suburban Hamburg, N.Y., south of Buffalo, is a private four-year college founded in 1957 in the Catholic Franciscan tradition. With nearly 1,100 students, Hilbert is a dynamic Western New York college that offers career-focused majors, including one of the top criminal justice programs in the region, and more than 50 minors and concentrations. The college’s engaging, student-centered campus community offers numerous leadership, internship, and service learning opportunities from which students launch successful careers while making positive changes in their communities. The Hilbert Blueprint promotes a well-rounded student experience over four years – starting with the Foundations Seminar in the freshman year, followed by Sophomore Service, Junior Symposium, and culminating with the Senior Capstone. Hilbert has expanded its academic offerings with the college’s first graduate programs and new Accelerated Degree Programs geared to adult learners.