I had no real direction or drive to work in criminal justice, it just kind of found me. During my undergrad, I had a great interest in why people commit crimes and what reasons, both social and psychological, impact upon our decisions and behavior. After I completed my undergrad I was accepted to a graduate program in criminal justice. There were five months between graduation and the start of my graduate program, so I started applying for jobs. One of those was at a local probation office helping to resettle offenders after sentence and working with them to get accommodation, training, education and employment. We were called Community Links Officers. It was the best and most fun I had ever had, and after three months the probation service asked if I would stay on full-time. That was never the plan, but I enjoyed the opportunity to help, to guide and to support people that had nothing, and who were very often seen to be the worst society had to offer. I made a deal – let me do my graduate program part-time, and I would stay full-time.
I stayed with the probation team for four years and spent much of my time helping in the resettlement of long-term dangerous or serious offenders, and loved everyday of my work. I helped with the training of new officers as they joined the team - I watched people change and develop as professionals and I really enjoyed that. It meant something. Today, I look back on that time working with offenders and realize just how important both parts of my career have been. But teaching in criminal justice, allowing new and brighter people to help support their community, make their homes a safer place and changes lives has really been my driving motivation.
When I was employed with the probation service I worked with a man who could not read. He had been returned to court and re-sentenced for failure to keep to the requirements of his order and that had resulted in a 30-day jail term and an order to continue reporting to the probation office once the 30 days was completed. He came to my office and we went through some of his paperwork, and he nodded and answered the questions in a fair way, but something really didn’t sit well and I wasn’t happy so I kept talking with him – it is amazing what you can learn from a man when you give him the chance to talk. I completed all of the paperwork with him and asked if he could just read through my notes and sign at the bottom of the page – a standard procedure. He sat shifting in his chair and was obviously very uncomfortable with the request. It made me so very angry with the system, a system which had sent a man back to jail for failing to comply when in actual fact he had failed because he couldn’t read the information and didn’t understand. I was angry because nobody had asked, and nobody had thought to take the time to find out why he was failing.
I spent five months working with him as part of a literacy program. He would come in twice a week and we would work on his letters. After five months he completed the course, and he finished his period on probation, and on the day he finished he could, for the first time in his life, read and write his own name and address. There were very nearly tears that day. It is the greatest achievement I know of, the power that simple skill can give a man.
It is my humble belief that everyone has the ability to achieve all that they have set out to do. I believe that a higher education equips the student with the skill set to challenge current thought and understanding and I believe that we have a moral duty to question the things that maintain the status quo. I believe that in the privileged position we find ourselves in as educated individuals we should use those skills for the betterment of all around us. I take these beliefs and apply them to my teaching style. One of the key techniques I use is to combine core reading with discussion, and whenever the lesson lends itself, I like to provide an opportunity for students to practice the skills they need for the criminal justice field.
One of a Kind Experiences
The University of Mount Union is one of a kind. It is a small campus, which many colleges and universities are, but one which prides itself on the family of UMU – it is not factory of education. We are all a part of one singular experience which melds the old with the new, history and technology, traditional with cutting edge. UMU is different, in the very fact that it not only offers, but expects that students will engage with a diverse program, which in turn provides for an experience in education unlike anything else.
Research is a key fundamental in what it means to be an academic, and so the answer is yes! Research informs our teaching practice and so by conducting and publishing research I ensure that students are offered the best, most accurate and newest evidence available. This has the obvious application of helping us to mold our program to ensure that we are providing exactly what the services want to see in their future officers. One example of my research is I conducted a survey of motorcycle riders in the state of Ohio, looking at the choices the rider makes, their riding style the motorcycle rider training they had undertaken and how they believed this could be improved. To this I added a series of interviews with riders, dealership owners/staff and instructors. It was a fantastic opportunity to get out and meet people and listen to their stories. I was even asked to present my findings to the Motorcycle Ohio Instructor Seminar – an event which takes places once a year in Columbus and is used as the main training event for all motorcycle instructors in the state of Ohio.
In the last couple of years I have had the pleasure of developing a number of courses, but I guess the stand out course is Crime Investigation. It is the first real hands on course the students have in the investigation process and helps them develop some of the skills they will need in their respective careers. Gangs and Organized Crime is also a very popular course that provides students an opportunity to examine a field of deviance and crime which has such an important impact upon society, and draws on evidence of every aspect of the social and the individual.
If I wasn’t biased it would be the library. It is the seat of learning and the place where I spent hours every day as both an undergraduate and graduate student. It is for me the one place on campus that I would like to see a hive of activity 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If I am being biased, T&H. It is clean, bright, and with some great study areas for the students. Most importantly however, it is the home to Criminal Justice.
Preparation for the Field
Mount Union has a wonderfully well-crafted mission: to prepare students for fulfilling lives, meaningful work and responsible citizenship. I can only speak to our program in Criminal Justice in addressing this and reflecting upon the mission, but to my mind UMU prepares students through a program of study which develops the skills and knowledge needed to experience the world as a ‘do-er.’ A person of responsibility and enthusiasm, eager to help those less fortunate, those in need of a helping hand, to support them to make the right decisions to become a better person.
The Value of the Criminal Justice Program
Criminal justice agencies have taken a great deal of flack in recent years, and usually because of the behavior of one or two individuals that destroy the hard work and dedication of everyone else. Our students are part of the new direction in criminal justice, offering a more professional and personable service to the community. This is a huge move forward and something that I think we should all be very proud to acknowledge in our students, and with them making the decisions in the future I think we will see great things. We want our students to be the very best law enforcement officers, corrections officers, security officers (local and national), probation and/or parole officers. Along with that, we want our students to be the first choice for every police department and every sheriff’s office, local, state and federal agencies, and I believe that with work and dedication of the students, faculty and staff, we can achieve that.
The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education
Today, as much as it ever has, a liberal arts foundation provides a student with an opportunity to explore other areas outside of their major, which can help them to learn, and to adapt to new and sometimes uncomfortable situations and circumstances. We live in a multi-cultural, amazingly diverse nation with people from all walks of life, all levels of education and training, with experiences which are often far from those that we are familiar with, in sum, it exposes the student to alternative viewpoints and ways of thinking about the world, which we should embrace in every opportunity.