Ryan Nelson, Idaho Lodge #6 President, B.A. Criminal Justice student (expected graduation end of 2013 or spring 2014)
Why did you decide to pursue a degree in criminal justice?
I have been in law enforcement for over 10 years now and felt I wasn’t progressing. Instead of waiting for something to happen, I decided I would better myself and finish my undergraduate degree. Initially I didn’t want to major in criminal justice. Like a lot of police officers, I felt that you’d learn more in a few years of street experience than you’d ever learn in a criminal justice program…. I ended up taking a constitutional law class thinking it would be a stress-free elective. After all, a good share of what we do is regulated by case law surrounding the U.S. Constitution. Constitutional law ended up being a very challenging class for me and I learned a lot of new information I didn’t learn in the academy. I…decided to complete my degree in criminal justice because the curriculum was challenging and had a real-life application to my career.
Describe your experience with online learning.
There are a lot of benefits with online courses. First, it is usually cheaper. AMU has a semester hour rate that is much lower than other online universities and in my case, it was lower than the state public university’s tuition rate. Second, online courses allow flexibility and independence. For me, online courses were the only option. Between shift work, having a young family and working regular off-duty employment, I couldn’t attend regular classes at a traditional brick-and-mortar school. AMU offers the flexibility to work throughout the week whenever I have the time. The professors at AMU are also very understanding of the work-life balance issue…. I’ve had several professors give me extra time to complete assignments when life happens.
There are definitely challenges to online learning…. With no set day or time for attending class, you really have to be on top of your work. The flexibility and independence of online learning requires a great deal of time management.
Of the courses you’ve taken, what are some of your favorites and why?
My favorite course at AMU was Small Unit Leadership. It was an elective that covered small unit military leadership traits, principles and case studies. The material was interesting and case studies ranged from ancient Greece to present day. Although it was a military studies course, I felt the critical teamwork concepts are important to law enforcement or any organization.
Another class I took that was interesting was a security management course. I work part-time managing a hospital security program and the course provided a lot of information relating to security management and physical security design in the private sector. The private sector has a lot of corporate security opportunities where former or retired law enforcement professionals are a good fit. Usually higher education is what differentiates applicants.
How do you expect that having this degree will benefit you?
I believe having a degree will allow me to progress in my career, either in law enforcement or the private sector. I can also see tangible results from higher education. Aside from the improved writing skills…there are other beneficial aspects of being an “educated” person. My perception of an educated person is someone who is proficient, knowledgeable and skilled in their expertise. Truly educated people are well-rounded in their knowledge and have the ability to make value judgments from that base level of knowledge. If an educated person does not know something, they seek out the answer. They research and analyze critical information and most importantly, they seek to collaborate and communicate with others effectively. These traits are very important in law enforcement officers and leaders alike.
What would you say to other FOP members who may be considering pursuing a criminal justice degree?
Just do it. Stick it out. There will be times when it’s difficult to juggle your priorities and still maintain some semblance of a normal life, but stick to it and get your degree. Days have a habit of turning into weeks, months and years. Don’t procrastinate. If you’ve had an interest in getting your degree, the sooner the better.