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Alyssa Knisley

Student explores the prison system one country at a time

"Going overseas made me realize there's always a new perspective."

Major: Criminology
Graduation: Spring 2017

Florida State University student Alyssa Knisley paved her career path in an unconventional way.

Knisley, who first came to Florida State as an exploratory major, discovered her passion while working on a paper involving media and criminal justice.

The senior watched Hollywood depictions of the prison system — Shawshank Redemption and Orange is the New Black — to complete the assignment. The project piqued Knisley's interest in the prison system, driving her to pursue a criminology major.

Knisley's continued study of the field prompted her to travel thousands of miles to Norway this past summer and observe the Scandinavian country's prison system to work on her honors thesis. She received the opportunity to travel to Norway through earning an FSU IDEA Grant

During her trip to Norway, Knisley visited a prison and experienced how differently its correctional system conducts itself. She discovered how Norway's correctional facilities work using "the normality principle" — or treating criminals like normal citizens.

"The guards do not carry weapons," Knisley said. "They recognize prisoners are people, too."

Knisley saw the prisons equipped with libraries, gyms and private rooms with flat screen televisions. Regardless, she feels prison facilities overseas have a false reputation for being luxurious.

"The way the media described these prisons, they say they're spa hotels," Knisley said. "It's still a prison. They're not allowed to leave. Going overseas made me realize there's always a new perspective."

Learning new points of view has always been one of Knisley's strong suits. She has lived in Iceland, Japan, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Rhode Island and California.

Lisa Magruder, a social work graduate student and Knisley's former teacher, is astonished by the amount of work the senior has put into her research and the perspective she has gained in the process. 

"She's clearly very proactive as a scholar which is particularly impressive considering she is an undergraduate student," Magruder said. "Taking on a project of that magnitude traveling to Norway is very impressive. To put all of the wheels in motion and to take that kind of initiative is notable."

In addition to conducting research around globe, Knisley plays an important role in an organization in Tallahassee. As a junior last spring, Knisley served as the editor-in-chief of The Owl, a peer-reviewed research journal for undergraduate students.

"I coordinated the editorial board," Knisley said. "Being a leader in any form is excellent of course. Every member of the board was a leader in their own way though."

Knisley feels her time at Florida State in the criminology program has developed her research skills tremendously and allowed her to forge a path to fulfill her future career goals.

"I wasn't really set on criminology at first," Knisley said. "It's internationally ranked at FSU which is a perk. Their willingness to work with students one-on-one has helped a lot."

Knisley hopes to spend her first year post-graduation working for AmericaCorps, a federally funded, non-profit organization that helps communities in need.

But before saying goodbye to Florida State, Knisley hopes to give back to the community where she has spent the last four years.

"I'm focused on giving back to the Tallahassee community," Knisely said. "I'm looking into volunteering in juvenile justice."

By Ross Toback, University Communications Intern
Student Star Profiles are produced by the offices of Information Technology Services, the Provost, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies and University Communications.