FGCU Professor Wins Congressional Award for Innovation in Justice


Photo courtesy of Dr. Sandra Pavelka.

Addyson McCullough, Assignment & Features Editor

FGCU’s own Sandra Pavelka, Ph.D., is the latest recipient of the Congressional Crime Survivors and Justice Caucus Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation. Pavelka was honored with this award during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week on April 26 in Washington, DC.    

This award highlights and honors professionals who have significantly impacted public policy development on local, state, national, or international levels in regards to dignity, respect, rights and services for crime victims. 

Pavelka has been with FGCU for over 21 years, holding a number of positions and is now an Institute for Youth Justice Studies founder and professor as well as a member of faculty senate, where she was once vice president.  

With a passion for crime victims and survivors, Pavelka has dedicated her career to restoring justice practices and ensuring they are survivor-centered and trauma-informed. She has worked with numerous organizations to improve legislation and the communities around her, along with being heavily involved in Pace Center for Girls. 

While working at Nova Law School, Pavelka became familiar with the Pace Center for Girls in Broward County. When she moved to Ft Myers to begin her time at FGCU, she worked tirelessly to bring Pace to Lee County. 

“Pace center is in our 15th year going on our 16th year and we’ve served over 1000 Girls, it’s just incredible to see the success of that program,” Pavelka said.

Pavelka received her bachelor’s degree from University of Florida. She originally wanted to be a medical doctor until she took a political science class and decided that was her passion. 

“I called my dad and said, ‘Dad, I’m changing my major to political science.’ And at that time, we didn’t have cell phones. It was the 1980s. And there was silence at the end of the phone and he’s like, ‘Where are you going to work? Are you going to get a job?’ I’m going to change the world,” Pavelka said. 

Since that decision, she has furthered her education and now has a Ph.D. in Public Administration, with a specialization in Justice Policy, from Florida Atlantic University. 

Pavelka has taken her passion to FGCU, instilling core values in students. 

“I think the most rewarding thing is really my work with the students at FGCU. I have one reason why I’ve stayed a professor is my sincere interest in teaching and working with my students. And in some cases, these students who have graduated years ago continue to have a place in my life. They’re almost like, you know, second daughter, or third daughter and son to me,” Pavelka said. 

Anne Seymour, a long-time friend and justice advocate, has worked alongside Pavelka in many of her efforts. They both have similar views on how justice should be trauma informed and crime survivor centered.

“My friendship and decades of working with Dr. Sandra Pavelka has made me a better advocate for victims and survivors of crime, and for responsible justice reform,” Seymour said. 

This award honors former California Judge, Lois Haight. She served as Chair of the 1982 President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, appointed by President Ronald Reagan. She pioneered many efforts in justice reform, specifically in crime victims’ rights. 

“Judge Haight would love Dr. Sandi’s focus on youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system (including victims and survivors), and her wonky-ness about restorative justice laws and policy,” Seymour said.

Pavelka was nominated for the award by Congressman Greg Steube. Her original nomination was for an Allied Professional Award but she later found out she was really nominated for the Congressional Crime Survivors and Justice Caucus Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation. 

“I was obviously honored and humbled, but very much surprised by that,” Pavelka said.