It was a regular Tuesday afternoon at Cal State San Bernardino, but an unexpected surprise would make it unforgettable for Gisela Bichler, professor of criminal justice. While teaching her 4 p.m. Research Methods in Criminal Justice class on April 30, a crowd led by CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales and Provost Rafik Mohamed, along with about 20 staff, faculty and administrators burst into the classroom.

This interruption was not just a break from routine but the announcement of the 2023-24 Outstanding Professor Award – a prestigious recognition bestowed upon Bichler for her exceptional contributions to teaching, research and service.

"You guys are our captive audience," Morales quipped, eliciting laughter from the students before turning the event into a celebration of Bichler's career.

"This is a very special occasion to celebrate really one of the true superstars of our faculty," Morales continued, acknowledging Bichler's significant impact through her scholarly work, teaching and dedication to the CSUSB community.

“Her scholarly achievements in research are nearly legendary,” said Morales, who went on to cite some of Bichler's accomplishments. She has published more than 38 peer-reviewed journal articles, authored four books, contributed to 32 book chapters and reviews, and produced 44 technical reports. Her work is widely recognized, with over 1,500 citations on Google Scholar. Moreover, her commitment to collaborative research, especially involving students and new faculty, underscores her role as a mentor and inspiration.

“She has been a mentor, a motivator, an inspiration to new faculty, often including them in her research projects,” said Morales. “Dr. Bichler has excelled in the classroom, building connections with her students that last long after graduation. In fact, guests at her annual Halloween party” – and here he stopped, glanced at Bichler and joked, “I’ve never been invited,” to much laughter, before he continued ­­­– “often include numerous alumni who continue to work with her on research projects. She is passionate about her work and shares that energy and excitement with those around her.”

The event was a blend of formal accolades and light-hearted moments. Mohamed, a former criminal justice colleague, playfully lamented that he no longer receives invitations to Bichler’s famous Halloween parties, to which Morales quipped, “Because you’re the provost!” The camaraderie and banter among the presenters brought smiles and laughter to the room throughout the brief event.

From left, Christina Hassija, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science; Rafik Mohamed, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs; and Gisela Bichler, recipient of the university’s 2023-24 Outstanding Professor Award.
From left, Christina Hassija, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science; Rafik Mohamed, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs; and Gisela Bichler, recipient of the university’s 2023-24 Outstanding Professor Award.

Christina Hassija, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, where the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is housed, praised Bichler for her contributions beyond academia.

“I just want to share my appreciation for all the work you do on behalf of criminal justice, the college and the campus," Hassija said. She noted Bichler's high standards and her ability to create valuable opportunities for both students and faculty, which are vital for the college's success.

Christine Famega, professor of criminal justice and interim director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, shared her long-standing professional relationship with Bichler, describing her as a mentor not only to students but also to incoming faculty.

"Gisela was the first professor that I got to know when I came to Cal State 22 years ago," Famega reflected. "She is a wonderful addition to our department. Too bad we can’t all be like you!”

In her response to the accolades, Bichler humorously hinted at the demanding nature of her courses. "I’m not sure they’re going to agree with you after the end of the semester," she jokingly referenced her students, eliciting laughter, before adding, "One of the most rewarding pieces of doing this work with students is that years later, 10 years later, you’ll bump into somebody in an unexpected situation, and they’ll tell you the research project they worked on in class. And that’s where I get my greatest satisfaction."

Gisela Bichler, professor of criminal justice and recipient of the university’s 2023-24 Outstanding Professor Award.
Gisela Bichler, professor of criminal justice and recipient of the university’s 2023-24 Outstanding Professor Award.

Bichler’s academic journey began at Simon Fraser University in Canada, where she earned her B.A. in criminology. She then advanced her studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, earning both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in criminal justice. Her scholarly path led her to Cal State San Bernardino, where she joined the department of criminal justice, now the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 24 years ago. Over the decades, Bichler has established herself as not only a cornerstone of CSUSB’s academic community but also as a prominent figure in crime analysis both nationally and internationally.

Bichler’s tenure at CSUSB has been marked by significant achievements, including the co-founding of the CSUSB Center for Criminal Justice Research, where she served as director from 2008 to 2021. Her efforts were instrumental in developing the crime analysis option into a full B.S. degree program, enhancing the educational offerings of the university.

Her commitment to educational excellence is evident in her dedication to her students. Over the past eight years alone, Bichler has chaired more than ten thesis committees, served on several others, and supervised over twenty independent studies. Her teaching philosophy ensures that all her classes include a research component, which she believes is essential for creating impactful learning experiences that foster student success. This approach is complemented by her use of diverse assessment methods to gauge and enhance student learning outcomes.

The quality of her instruction is frequently lauded in student evaluations, with many describing her as the “best professor ever,” “super knowledgeable and experienced” and “hardest professor ever, but worth it!” These testimonials reflect her ability to challenge and inspire her students, preparing them well for their future careers.

Her peers recognize her stature in the field of criminal justice as nearly legendary. The committee responsible for her recent recognition noted that Bichler has secured over $4.5 million in external funding, underscoring her prowess in research and grant acquisition. Furthermore, her role as a mentor and motivator extends beyond her students to include new faculty members, enriching the academic environment and fostering professional growth within the department.

The 2023-24 award committee members praise Bichler’s continuous impact and leadership in enhancing classroom experiences at the university. The committee is led by co-chairs Stuart Sumida (Department of Biology) and Montgomery Van Wart (Public Administration). Other members include Shafiq Rahman (representing the College of Arts and Letters), Ghulam Sarwar (representing the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration), Christopher Gentry (representing the College of Natural Sciences) and Thomas Long (representing the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences).  

In addition to her recent accolade, Bichler has been honored with several prestigious awards throughout her career. These include the President’s Award from the Western Society of Criminology (WSC) in 2019 and the J.D. Lohman Award for outstanding service to the WSC in 2004-05. Her contributions to CSUSB have been recognized with the CSUSB Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activities Award in 2017-18; the CSUSB Exceptional Service to Students Award in 2016-17; and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Outstanding Professional Achievement Award in 2011-12.