MSU Criminal Psychology Club Spotlight: Iliana Wilson

March 13, 2024 - Shelly DeJong

Iliana Wilson smiles at the camera while inside a car.Meet Iliana Wilson, the President of the MSU Criminal Psychology Club! Iliana is pursuing dual degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice with plans to graduate in the fall of 2024. As a Spartan, Iliana has had multiple research experiences including interning with the Cold Case Unit with the Michigan State Police. Read on to learn why Iliana chose Psychology and Criminal Justice, what the Criminal Psychology Club is all about, and what some of her best advice is for other students. 


Did you know that you wanted to study Psychology and Criminal Justice when you came to MSU? 

I came in undecided, but I took psychology my senior year of high school, so I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. My dad is a thriller book author, so I grew up being aware of the darker side of life. I knew I wanted to blend that in with my interest in psychology, so I officially declared Psychology and Criminal Justice as majors during my second semester.  

If anybody is interested in criminal justice, I would completely recommend adding a psychology degree or even a minor. I think psychology could be added to anything. It’s so useful and applicable to all aspects of life. 


Can you tell me about the MSU Criminal Psychology Club? 

I joined the Criminal Psychology Club my first semester but mostly just listened in while I cleaned my dorm room. Over the years, though, I rose in the rank and now it's my everything.  

We meet every other Thursday at 7PM on Zoom, but also have some in-person guest speaker events which are a nice way to meet people. In the past we’ve had a forensic pathologist and a detective for the Michigan State Police come in as guest speakers.  

We structure our virtual meetings like a podcast. People can keep their cameras off, do their dishes, whatever they need to do while listening to us. What’s cool is that you can engage if you want to—ask questions and react in the chat. Every other week, our e-board meets to come up with a few ideas for cases and then we poll our members to let them ultimately decide. We try to have a variety of cases from serial killers, cults, and white-collar crimes to missing person cases. After a case is picked, the VP and I each end up doing tons of research and learning everything we can about the case.  We then present the case at the meetings. It's a lot of work, but it’s fun. We each have our own interesting tidbits and facts so it's very bantery—not like a lecture at all. It's very conversational which prompts people to be a lot more engaged.  


How does psychology play a role in this club? 

In every presentation, the first half of the meeting is all about the details. Then we flip gears and go into the psychology of it. We talk about informal diagnosis, psychological theories...the why behind what happened.  This is where we get a lot of engagement from our members because we often ask what they think happened. We also give definitions for different psychological diagnoses and stuff like that. A lot of us are really interested in abnormal psychology and psychopathology, so we make sure to bring that in. These cases are always riddled with psychology, which makes it fun to discuss.  


Do you know what's next for you?  

I'm hoping to go into criminal law, so I’ll be applying to law school this summer. I've always said that I would not be a lawyer, but then I took CJ 275 Criminal Procedure and I fell in love with it. Criminal procedure is the most interesting subject I've ever studied to this day. When it comes up in my classes, I freak out. I think it's so cool. I also added a Law, Justice, and Public Policy minor so right now I'm taking Judicial Politics. I took Constitutional Law last semester, and I loved it. It was structured exactly like a law school class. We read tons and tons of cases. Our exams were structured like law school exams where you apply cases to a situation. It was super hard, but I just thought like, oh, I can do this. 


Have you had a favorite research experience?  

Last semester I interned with the Michigan State Police with their Cold Case Unit, and it was probably the best experience I've ever had in my entire life. It was unreal. Eight of us were accepted and we basically had a cold case library full of cases from all around Michigan. We worked to organize and digitize the files, create a timeline, and really do the bulk of the background work for the detectives. As interns, we get access to the whole file which allows us to see crime scene photos, case reports, and sometimes even the physical weapons used in the crimes. It can be hard to see, but it was cool to contribute to solving these cold cases. The detective who I worked for knew I was interested in law so he would always challenge me to view cases from that lens. He pushed me to think like a defense attorney. 

Now I’m doing research with them!  I decided to create a project with Professor Rojek and a previous intern from the Cold Case Unit. We are collecting data on cold cases and we're going to do a paper comparing cold cases tactics in the past to tactics of today.  


Have any psychology classes stood out to you? 

I've never had a psych class that I didn’t enjoy, and I've loved pretty much all of my psychology professors. I think my psych professors are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.  

PSY 235 Social Personality with Professor Brandt was great. He was personable and taught the concepts well. It was a huge lecture of 200 people, but he promoted so much engagement. I met so many cool people. You always knew you would be talking to the person on your right and left during class. The class topic itself was also so interesting—and applicable to everything.  


Any advice for students thinking about pursuing Psychology and Criminal Justice?  

Get involved in research! My advice is to email people and ask if you can get involved. Research experience is so much easier to get than I thought it was going to be when I was in high school. A lot of professors are willing to work with you especially if you come to them with an idea. Make sure to read the department newsletters, too. I got my internship through the newsletter. You don't necessarily have to have connections to get far, you can reach out to people, and a lot of times they're going to say yes. 

Also, I’d recommend joining the Criminal Psychology Club if you’re interested! It’s a very low commitment. We've had people who have wine nights with their friends while they listen to our meetings. It really is like a true crime podcast and is a great break after a day of studying. We're super active on our Instagram, so you can get involved with the club there, too.