Juanita Ortiz

Rebecca Landsberg Anchor link to John Martin video Professor Ortiz on making connections with students

Meet Juanita Ortiz
Assistant Professor,
Criminal Justice



  • B.A., Political Science, University of Oklahoma, 2002
  • B.A., Sociology, University of Oklahoma, 2002
  • M.A., Sociology with emphases in Criminology & Stratification, University of Oklahoma, 2004
  • Ph.D., Sociology with emphases in Criminology & Stratification, University of Oklahoma, 2010


  • I grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, and I originally went to college to become a lawyer. However, I took a criminology class as an elective the year that I was supposed to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, and I liked it so much that I decided to get a minor in Sociology, My ultimate goal as a professor is to encourage social responsibility among each of my students. prolonging my bachelor’s degree completion. However, after I’d completed my minor courses, I realized I liked it too much to quit there, so I went ahead and earned the degree in Sociology as well as Political Science. I received a great fellowship offer to attend graduate school at OU, so I thought I’d take advantage of that opportunity and then go on to earn my J.D. I was always terrified of speaking in front of any group, so I never saw myself teaching. However, that was a requirement of my doctoral program, so I had no choice. I grew physically sick before my first few class sessions, but then I discovered that I liked the interaction with the students! I thus “accidentally” discovered my love of teaching, and I have never re-thought my original goal of becoming a lawyer! I moved to Springfield in August 2008 to pursue my first full-time position out of graduate school at OU. I am happily married to my husband, Robert, and we have a very spoiled chihuahua named Oreo.

Interesting facts:

  • I am very proud of the fact that both of my parents came from Mexico, worked as migrant workers and my father later as a custodian, and raised me and my six siblings to be successful professionals. I was the first person in my entire extended family to graduate from high school and to complete a college education. My native language was Spanish, so I did not speak English until I was about seven years old, and I only learned it by being completely immersed in English-only classes at school and church! I thus really enjoy my work as the faculty co-sponsor of the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) at UIS, as this group keeps me involved with my Hispanic culture. Other random facts about me are that I do not like fancy food, and I love reality television for the opportunity that it gives me to observe people.

Learning philosophy:

  • My ultimate goal as a professor is to encourage social responsibility among each of my students. While I challenge each student to realize their fullest critical thinking abilities, I also ask students to consider how their newfound knowledge can be used to improve the society around them. It’s not enough for me to have my students walk away with just knowledge of the course’s subject matter—I want my students to actively seek out opportunities for making positive change among the individuals and communities surrounding them. I work to foster this social responsibility among my students each semester by introducing challenging reading and discussions involving relevant current issues; showing important documentaries about the issues we’re considering; bringing community professionals into the class as guest lecturers; assigning projects in the local community that require the application of course objectives; and taking my classes on field trips to give them personal, interactive experiences with the groups that we are learning about.

Research interests:

  • I love to study anything that involves the way that gender/sex, race/ethnicity, and social class affect one’s experiences with crime and the criminal justice system. I also focus my research efforts on women prisoners’ reentry and recidivism, to understand the challenges that female offenders face upon their release from prison and what can be done to prevent their returning to prison. I am especially interested in the study of females and crime because of the historic disregard of girls and women as victims, offenders, and professionals in the criminal justice system. I want to contribute to the realization and addressing of these girls’ and women’s needs before their incarceration, but, if that is not possible, then during and after their incarceration.

Major project underway:

  • I am currently working with Susan Sharp, from the University of Oklahoma, on research articles focusing on the application of feminist criminological theory to female inmates’ experiences with recidivating. We are also conducting research combining qualitative and quantitative examinations of the specific challenges affecting reentering female offenders.

Listen to Professor Ortiz talk about connecting with students:

Advice to prospective students:

  • My greatest piece of advice would be for you to attend class every day, and to do so prepared. If you show up every day, and you have the background for that day’s lecture through the completion of reading and other assignments, you are significantly contributing toward your success in college. Another priceless piece of advice is for you to get involved on campus. Make an effort to join student and campus groups, as the college experience is more than just learning in the classroom—it’s also about learning about yourself and your interests, while establishing helpful connections around the University. Finally, ask for help as soon as you see yourself needing it.

Best thing about UIS:

  • Two things are tied for me, in terms of being the best things about UIS. First, I think every person on campus enjoys great access to faculty, staff, administrators, and students who sincerely care about your success at UIS. Seriously, there has not been a challenge I have met at UIS or even in Springfield that a faculty or staff member, an administrator, or even a student has not helped me to overcome (except for my search for authentic homemade flour tortillas!). You will therefore have plenty of support at UIS, whatever you’re doing here. Secondly, the small class sizes at UIS are an amazing benefit for everyone at UIS. The students benefit from the professors’ ability to know them and their strengths and weaknesses personally, to ensure that they have the best possible learning experience within each class.