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Criminal study

Alumna wins Fulbright for research project in Lithuania

Allison Cormier-Jonaitis ’13 will spend the next year researching organized crime in post-Soviet Lithuania through a Fulbright Research Grant.

Cormier-Jonaitis, who graduated last year with a degree in Russian studies, has been accepted as a student at Mykolas Romeris University Faculty of Law in Vilnius, Lithuania, where she will conduct her studies under the guidance of Associate Professor Dr. Aurelijus Gutauskas, a Supreme Court Justice in Lithuania and the foremost expert on organized crime in that country.

“The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in drastic changes in East European societies over the last two decades. … For some, the change has meant increased poverty, social inequality, unemployment and uncertainty about the future; for others, it has meant increasing personal, political and economic freedom,” Cormier-Jonaitis wrote in a description of her research plans. “For a researcher like myself with Russian and Lithuanian language skills interested in the incidence, forms, causes and consequences of social deviance in Eastern Europe, Lithuania is an ideal venue to research the effects of rapid transition on a society.”

The Wheaton alumna will investigate the factors that have contributed to increased crime in Lithuania, comparing her findings to similar research on Russia, and will collect demographic information through the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, European Union Crime Threat Assessments and the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau. She also will collaborate with Dr. Aleksandras Dobryninas at Vilnius University, whose research focuses on deviance and sociological problems in criminology.

“One would expect democratization to result in lower levels of crime, but that may not be the case,” Cormer-Jonaitis wrote in her Fulbright essay. “My ability to study the effect of socioeconomic and political transition on criminal activity in Lithuania is an opportunity to produce novel research about the nature of societies in transition. … By establishing a model for societies in transition, researchers may be able to predict negative social outcomes and move one step closer to easing the shift in transitional countries.”

Her interest in Russian language and culture was sparked by a neighbor in her hometown of Alton, N.H., who ran a nonprofit that provided books to children at village schools in Russia. Cormier-Jonaitis began writing to and Skyping with pen pals overseas and learning the language. In high school, she expanded her studies by seeing a Russian language tutor. Once at Wheaton, her choice of major was clear. During her studies, she took a particular interest in Lithuania, the native country of her great-grandfather.

A Balfour Scholar, Cormier-Jonaitis worked as a museum collection assistant and Russian language tutor while at Wheaton and was active in the History Club and Russian Club and on the women’s rugby team.

After her Fulbright year, the alumna plans to study social anthropology in graduate school, possibly in Lithuania.

“I plan to obtain a PhD and become an expert in organized crime in Eastern Europe, eventually working for an international organization focused on eradicating criminal actions globally,” she said in her essay. “A Fulbright research grant will provide me with the experience of conducting meaningful research in Eastern Europe and allow me a unique opportunity to become more in tune with Lithuanian culture.”