Criminal justice PhD candidate receives largest award by a graduate student in Texas State’s history


Lane Fortenberry | October 9, 2023

A stock image of someone working on a computer in a courtroom.

April Chai, a fourth-year criminal justice doctoral student at Texas State University, has received a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for her dissertation project, “The Mortal Tragedy: Analyzing Body Disposal Patterns in Homicide Cases.”

Her fellowship, in the amount of $166,500, is the single largest award ever received by a graduate student at Texas State.

April Chai headshot
April Chai

The NIJ GRF provides three years of funding to support doctoral students whose dissertation research is relevant to criminal and/or juvenile justice. This program contributes to the Department of Justice's mission by increasing the pool of researchers engaged in providing scientific solutions to problems related to criminal justice policy and practice in the United States.

“I am truly humbled and extremely grateful for receiving the NIJ GRF,” Chai said. “It is a transformative gift that allows me to wholeheartedly devote my attention and energy to the research that I am passionately engaged in. More importantly, I am now equipped to translate my research insights into tangible applications that will help real people in the criminal justice field, namely, homicide investigators, and to bring closure for the families of homicide victims.”

Chai is the sixth Texas State graduate student to be awarded a GRF and the first since the award returned from a two-year hiatus. In FY 2023, the award amount was increased from $150,000, and 24 awards were made nationally — only two of which went to Texas institutions of higher education. 

April's dissertation committee chair is Kim Rossmo, Ph.D., professor in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology and director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation. In his Statement of Support, Rossmo wrote that April's project addresses a pressing problem in her field, with the potential for wide-ranging practical impacts. 

“The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System estimates there are more than 600,000 active missing persons cases in the United States, with a significant portion of these cases potentially involving homicide,” Rossmo wrote. “Time is a critical factor for locating victim remains. The longer it takes for law enforcement to locate a body, the greater the risk of losing valuable evidence and information that can aid in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator.”

Rossmo explained, “April’s proposed research involves a novel and innovative combination and application of methods from various fields, such as environmental criminology, forensic taphonomy, and forensic archeology, to aid law enforcement in the search for body disposal sites.”

Chai’s project thus has demonstrable relevance to preventing and controlling crime and ensuring the proper administration of criminal justice in the United States.

Specifically, her project addresses the challenge of locating clandestine graves outlined by NIJ’s Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group. It also aligns with Strategic Priority I of the Forensic Science Strategic Research Plan to advance applied research and development in forensic science, particularly by identifying clandestine sites.

Chai was born in Malaysia and received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Simon Fraser University in Canada where she holds citizenship. (International students are eligible for this federal award because the applicant is the institution of higher education where the student is enrolled.)

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922