Shanelle Mays has been fascinated with criminal justice since she was a little girl. "My dad and I used to watch court proceedings, and all of the dynamics involved intrigued me. Now I am a part of this new (criminal justice) program, and I find the faculty are excited and innovative."
Senior Nina Martinez has a dream. "I look forward to starting a nonprofit organization called the Extended Arm," says Martinez, who is completing the bachelor's degree program in criminal justice (BACJ) at the School of Public Affairs. "It will serve children who have been isolated by some aspect of the criminal justice system—those in foster homes from families torn apart or children of drug-abusing parents."
Though in her early 20s, Martinez displays the resolve and maturity of one too familiar with life's harsher realities. She was introduced to the justice system at age 14, when her mother was shot and killed. The tragedy now drives her. When the BACJ program was introduced to undergraduates, she immediately transferred from another program.
Criminal justice research and theory
According to program coordinator Brendan Hardy, the new BACJ program already has 85 students enrolled—approximately 50 percent of whom transferred from other courses of study or had previously undeclared majors.
"This program provides a foundation in criminal justice research and theory, which we're already known for at the graduate level," Brendan says.
"Internships help students explore different careers," says Mary Dodge, director of the program, who encourages undergraduates to connect with the community their junior or senior year. Because the BACJ program is new, just a few students have interned with the Colorado Department of Corrections, Adams County Probation and the Denver County Coroner's office and the Denver Police Department (DPD).
Mays was accepted into DPD's volunteer CSI program, processing property crimes in the crime lab. "It's nice to be surrounded by people interested in similar things."
For Martinez, interning at the Denver Center for Crime Victims led to a job. After serving for a semester as a hotline counselor—an experience she says opened her eyes to the areas citizens need counseling and funding support after criminal activity--Martinez was hired as a program assistant. Now, she sets up interpretation appointments for citizens who don't speak English.
Working in the community
Dodge gives faculty and staff credit for helping students understand the realities of their future career choices. BACJ instructors are integrated in from the local community: Gerald Whitman is chief of police for DPD; Richard Rosenthal is a former independent police monitor, and Donna Starr-Gimeno, who serves as an adjunct professor, is a DPD lieutenant.
Brendan coordinates events allowing students to interact with community and law enforcement professionals. Last year, he assembled a career panel that included Greeley Mayor Ed Clark, Karen Blackwell of the Denver Children's Advocacy Center and Christine Zorn, a U.S. probation officer.
On paper, the program is new. But it already thrives in the School of Public Affairs, as a result of the school's powerful relationships with local law enforcement, criminal justice and judicial groups. The dedicated faculty, staff and students have set a great baseline for future students to serve their communities with passion and dedication.
Follow your passion
"Go to school for what you are passionate about," recommends Mays. "Be self-fulfilled—it makes it easier to follow through."