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College of Coastal Georgia News

Criminal Justice Program at the College Thrives
Posted 05/06/2019 02:44PM

By Tiffany King

The criminal justice program at Coastal Georgia is one the College's fastest growing degrees. Housed within the School of Business and Public Management, the program continues to evolve and benefits from the real-world experience of its instructors. Instructors are former and or current law enforcement professionals, representing different agencies—such as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, etc.—who are giving students relevant and up-to-date information for their future careers.

The College's Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice launched in fall 2015. Previously, the College offered an associate's degree in criminal justice, then a bachelor's in public affairs with a concentration in criminal justice. The criminal justice program now offers four concentrations: cyber security, public management, Homeland Security, and data information and analysis. There are currently 150 students in the program, with the first cohort who have been in the program a full four years graduating this May.

The program is led by Cynthia Atwood, lead faculty and lecturer of criminal justice, who retired from a 30-year career in federal law enforcement in May 2014, before coming to the College. Twenty of those years was spent at FLETC, where she served as an instructor in the behavioral science division, instructor in the training management division, and finished as assistant director. Teaching college has always been a dream job for Atwood since her time as a student at Eastern Kentucky University.

"I've wanted to teach college since I was in undergrad. What drove me to want to become a college professor was an undergraduate class where the professor—although as nice as she could be—had no relevant experience to draw upon when she was teaching," Atwood said. "It just stuck with me and I wanted to go out into the field, gain experience, and one day come back to teach from a position of experience."

This mindset has permeated the program. Atwood attributes the program's success to the "outstanding" adjunct faculty. The program faculty consists of Bryan Lemons, FLETC chief of staff; Susan Thornton, former prosecutor and chief of public affairs; Steve Bius, former NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] agent and FLETC retiree; and Maia Jefferson, who is a federal probations officer.

The Benefits of Community Partnerships

FLETC, located just a short distance from the College, provides training for more than 95 different law enforcement agencies. It serves as the headquarters and is the largest of three such centers in the United States and the College reaps the benefit of having such an institution nearby. The criminal justice program requires that students do a 120-hour internship with a public sector agency or nonprofit. Atwood said many of her students have interned at FLETC, which will give them a competitive edge.

"We've had tons of students at FLETC, in everything from human resources and facilities management, to cyber security, forensic science, and drivers training. Agencies at FLETC are hearing about our internship and are contacting us to find out how they can get a college student who has a strong desire for a career in criminal justice to intern with them," Atwood said. "It's tough to get the kind of job experience you need to be competitive in the workplace, but this gives our students a real leg up."

The local community has also embraced Coastal Georgia students for internships. Students have interned with the court system, district attorney's office, private law practices, the Glynn County Detention Center, Sheriff's Office and police department.

Careers in Law Enforcement

One of the things Atwood is proudest of is seeing former students become gainfully employed and pursuing their career paths. She hopes law enforcement agencies view the program as a pipeline of qualified, young professionals.

One well-known alum is Robert Mydell, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor's in public affairs with a concentration in criminal justice. He was one the last students to graduate before the program launched the B.S. degree. Mydell is now a police officer with the Glynn County Police Department. He started in August 2016—right after graduation—and was named Officer of the Year in 2017. Law enforcement runs in this family. His father is a sergeant in Savannah, his uncle is a police officer in Baltimore, and his grandfather spent many years in law enforcement as well.

Glynn County Police Officer and College of Coastal Georgia alum Robert Mydell talks with students in a forum for young professionals who work and serve in the public sector.

Glynn County Police Officer and Coastal Georgia alum Robert Mydell speaks at a forum for young professionals working in the public sector. Mydell shared his experiences in law enforcement and what it means to serve the community.

"My grandfather was in the Secret Service, was at FLETC, and did a lot of things," Mydell said. "I guess you can say that law enforcement got passed down to me."

What Mydell appreciated the most about the criminal justice program at Coastal Georgia was the dedication of his professors.

"At the time they were bringing in a lot of new professors who had very diverse backgrounds. What they taught was pretty relevant to what was going on in the world currently," Mydell said.

His professors stressed the importance of community relations and interactions, which he finds himself practicing every day.

"The biggest thing our professors stressed is how we deal with people in the community. If you go into a situation treating someone with respect, no matter who the person may be or the incident, you'll get more cooperation. I find myself talking to others as I would want someone talking to my family. I stress now more than anything the term 'humanizing the badge.' Outside of my uniform I'm a human being just like you. I watch myself and how I treat people," Mydell said.

Mydell advises other students considering a career in criminal justice to just go for it.

"No matter what type of law enforcement you want to do—local, state, federal—there's always a need for us. People are willing to risk their lives every day and go out and serve others. You need to go into work every day with the correct mindset of helping as many people as you can and wanting to go home at the end of your shift."

Lauren Pridmore is another Mariner alum who appreciates the education she received at Coastal Georgia. She graduated from the College in December 2017, after graduating from Glynn Academy in 2015. She earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice with a concentration in Homeland Security in just two years thanks to her participation in the Dual Enrollment program at the College while in high school. She also took summer classes, enabling her to graduate from the College early.

"The first year I went to Coastal Georgia, it was the start of the four-year degree, so I took it as a sign," she said. "Doing Dual Enrollment really showed me what Coastal was all about. There were a lot of opportunities for students, such as job fairs, and FLETC was so close by. The criminal justice program is so great because almost all the professors either work at or retired from FLETC, so it gave me a lot of real-life training."

Following graduation, Pridmore was hired to be a Customs and Border Protections officer in Arizona. She will soon be assigned to monitor items coming in and out of the country, such as weapons, drugs, and agriculture. She moved to Arizona but will return to Georgia for several months training at FLETC—a place she knows very well.

Pridmore said her professors weren't just by-the-book instructors.

"We would of course learn technical things, such as different law enforcement tactics and policies, but they didn't sugarcoat anything," she said. "They will tell you what you need to know in law enforcement. You have to be careful, because it's life or death."

Atwood often takes students to FLETC to learn about the law enforcement agencies represented there, watch simulations, and go on tours. Pridmore admired how different agencies continually train to improve their skills and methods. She encourages all students, not only criminal justice majors, to visit FLETC if they have an opportunity.

"I went to FLETC three or four times with Ms. Atwood. They're doing some great research. They showed us how to do a high speed chase effectively with simulators and real cars. They're researching if instructors or simulators teach high speed chase scenarios the best," she said. "It was a blast—one of the most fun things I've ever done. Even if you're not in the criminal justice program, just go. They're looking for all kinds of participants."

Visiting FLETC also gave Pridmore the opportunity to network and meet agents in the fields most interesting to her.

Atwood talked of one student who was unsure of his career path, which changed after a comprehensive tour of FLETC.

"The very next day that student showed up with a change of major form. He wanted to change his major to criminal justice and the student became the first Mariner to graduate from FLETC's Criminal Investigator Training Program. He's going to embark on a fabulous career in NCIS," Atwood said. "That's really special to me, when I hear about students becoming gainfully employed. I see myself as not just a professor, but as someone who helps students onto their career path."

Looking Towards the Future

Atwood foresees the program continuing to grow and one day expanding into its own full department at the College. The program is in the process of trying to bring in a full-time cyber security professor, which Atwood believes will appeal to students with an interest in criminal justice as well as computers.

"Our criminal justice system isn't going away. It needs professionals on all levels—law enforcement, courts, and corrections. I see us having this little hallway as criminal justice professionals, teaching and advising students. We're a microcosm of what's happening at the College overall in terms or growth," Atwood said. "I'm looking forward to hearing about what's going on here 20 years from now."

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