Columbian College adds new master’s program

Clinical psychologist Richard Cooter wants his students to think like criminals.

The newly hired associate professor – who graduated from GW in 2004 and practiced law for 25 years before that – will spend the next several months outlining a curriculum that combines the science and the mindset behind breaking the law for a new master’s degree program in forensic psychology that will launch this fall.

“People are interested in why anyone would be that way – be that vicious, be that uncaring – and what sorts of psychological needs that behavior satisfies,” Cooter, the lead faculty member for the program, said. “People are interested in why.”

The forensic sciences program will be integrated with GW’s professional psychology program, which its director, Loring Ingraham said “is designed to provide doctoral-level training in clinical psychology.”

GW already has a natural science-based forensic sciences program with degree concentrations in forensic chemistry, forensic molecular biology and forensic toxicology.

Cooter and forensic psychology professor Rocio Lopez Sharifi are modeling the curriculum after existing programs at for-profit institutions like Argosy University and Capella University.

“We’re trying to incorporate the best of all of them and model it so we create real quality,” Cooter said.

The master’s program will have a two-year curriculum with 37 required credits in the fields of applied forensics and applied psychology. These courses – held in the Arlington Graduate Education Center in Arlington, Va. – will include subjects like psychopathology, victimology, psychological profiling, interrogation, interviewing and counterintelligence.

By teaching tactics for delving into the criminal mind, Cooter said the program will produce graduates who can enter fields like law enforcement and counterterrorism.

“When you’re asking me questions and you’re trying to get answers, you want to know what makes me tick. When you figure out what makes me tick, then you can figure out how to get the answers to your questions,” Cooter said, putting himself in the shoes of an interrogation subject. “If you can figure that out in law enforcement or antiterrorism, it can help you get the information you need.”

Peg Barratt, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said the proximity to national law enforcement and homeland security agencies will allow students in the program unique access and internships.

“Of course, we wouldn’t have created the program if we didn’t feel it would attract a high level of interest,” Barratt said.

Cooter said he anticipates that 20 to 25 students will initially enroll in the program.

This article was updated on January 23, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly listed that the forensic psychology program would be held on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus. It will actually be held in the Arlington Graduate Education Center in Arlington, Va.

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