Spotlight on Jefferson Award Winners: Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar

Seigfried-Spellar is working on a tool that analyzes chats and identifies the grooming strategies used by online offenders.

[I] see it as ones and zeroes. If we put the right pieces together we can help solve this.


Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar believes problems require solutions. A professor at Purdue since 2015, Seigfried-Spellar is fascinated by online crimes. This interest began during her internship with Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana in the summers of 2003 and 2004. As an intern, she noticed a large number of warrants for suspected internet child pornography users and found limited research on this offending behavior.

Since then, she has been committed to keeping children safer online and assisting law enforcement by enhancing and expanding their methods investigating cyberdeviance. She aims to debunk myths around this stigmatized area of research while prioritizing the distribution of information. 

In 2016, she began researching chat data, an idea she had been cultivating since before she had a Ph.D. and had written on a post-it note. When she became part of the faculty at Purdue, she identified talented colleagues who could join her in this undertaking. With this research, she is working on a tool that analyzes chats and identifies the grooming strategies used by online offenders. By identifying how offenders behave, she can educate teachers, parents, youth, and law enforcement on how to get ahead of child exploitation online before it occurs. 

When on sabbatical in Spain this past fall, she continued this work alongside researchers focusing on cyberdeviance to see how offender strategies overlapped. She also opened up fields of inquiry to Spanish-based datasets since the majority of current research revolves around the English language. There are people that think this work is too socially sensitive and there are people that have difficulty talking about this topic. In the U.S, because her research requires access to child pornography she is deputized to investigate such content in local law enforcement units. Her unique line of work requires immense trust, strict protocols, and for her to form reciprocal relationships with law enforcement.

Other countries have been working in this area much longer because of the difference in laws.


Seigfried-Spellar has hosted talks on internet safety at high schools and presented for the Purdue Women’s Network. She has also been recognized for her contributions as a Jefferson Award winner and Societal Impact Fellow through Purdue’s Office of Engagement.

Seigfried-Spellar exposes herself to this work because she wants kids to be safe. She encourages anyone who is interested in similar work to always employ objectivity, mutual respect, and multidisciplinary approaches.

Learn more about Purdue’s annual Jefferson Awards.

Apply through May 5, 2023 for the next cohort of Societal Impact fellows.

Source: Office of Engagement service-learning intern Kamilah Valentin-Diaz.