State’s criminology and criminal justice program is the university’s most popular major — and faculty are working to make it even more popular.
“There are very few other professions where you can really make a positive difference. You’re never sure what’s going to happen. The most exciting thing in your life could happen 10 minutes from now, or it may be a routine day and you’ll have nothing to talk about. But you can’t escape a day without having an impact on the lives of so many people.”
That’s what law enforcement officers like DeVere Woods say about a career in criminal justice. Now the chairperson of the department of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State, Woods leads a dynamic program that aims to prepare tomorrow’s difference-makers. e department, more than 40 years old and the home to numerous notable alumni, houses the most popular major at Indiana State — and is preparing to meet the future of a changing profession.
Today, more than 800 Sycamores are pursuing a degree in criminology and criminal justice. Admittedly, some may have been inspired to choose the major because of the thrilling, albeit unrealistic, crime dramas on television. But many understand the degree is a path to a rewarding career.
“We have to resolve those TV myths about the job when they first come here,” said Shannon Barton, professor of criminology and criminal justice. “But I think a lot of the major’s popularity has to do with people wanting to be good public servants. Everyone can be a part of change. I think a lot of people see that in this field.”
Sophomore Hunter McCord, one of the department’s many outstanding scholars, agrees.
“You hear stories from cops about how they arrest someone for drugs and then a couple years down the road are thanked by that person for saving their life,” said McCord, who hopes to become a police officer herself. “It’s the fact that something you do in your daily job could impact someone’s life and change it for the better.”
Law enforcement, although a popular aspiration, is by no means the only impactful career option. Since criminology and criminal justice are such broad disciplines, “there are a lot of opportunities in the field, especially if you’re willing to go where the jobs are,” Woods said.
That list includes employment in related disciplines such as probation and parole agencies, correctional institutions, youth services programs, private security agencies, safety programs, and military intelligence. The major even applies to roles at insurance agencies and many other institutions. Graduates can also proceed to law school or seek an advanced degree in criminology and criminal justice.
To help Sycamores seize one of those opportunities, the program officers a well-rounded selection of courses and invaluable resources. Students learn about the science behind the causation, correction and prevention of crime, as well as the practices and institutions that aim to control crime and enforce laws.
To get their foot in the door, students must complete an internship to gain real-world experience and meet with recruiters at the annual Criminology and Criminal Justice Career Fair. Students also hear from prominent alumni who return to State to share their experiences and advise the program’s directors. And some of the most valuable resources, of course, are the faculty members.
“I think a unique thing about our department is our faculty’s backgrounds in the field,” Barton said.
Some faculty members have been police officers, probation officers, prison counselors and prosecutors before beginning their university positions. And some have always been dedicated researchers. Although their backgrounds, interests and approaches differ, the department enjoys a collaborative, productive workplace culture.
“Everybody brings something to the table,” Woods said. “The amazing thing about this place is that the glue holds everybody together. Here, whether it’s criminology, criminal justice, corrections or policing, everybody tends to respect each other.”
“When you come to faculty meetings, people are sharing ideas,” Barton said. “They’re talking about things in the hallways, they’re collaborating on research. When we feel good about what we’re doing, and we like each other and have that very positive culture, it does translate to the students who feel more comfortable to come and see us.”
Their blend of diverse field experiences and academic scholarship — as well as warmth and energy — easily resonates with students in the program.
“Every criminology professor that I’ve had to date has been very passionate about our learning and carrying on their legacy,” McCord said. “Having that classroom atmosphere where professors are telling you about their experience instead of just getting it out of a book makes it that much easier to understand and comprehend. I know they care about their students and they’re out for our best interests and our futures. It’s so tight-knit, and it makes for a really good education.”
Although students have found success and enjoyment in the current program, the department still looks for ways to improve.
“We’re not stagnant. We want to be a dynamic program,” Barton said. “We are continually reviewing our curriculum, looking at what certification requirements are, looking at what the trends are, and trying to be forward-thinking in terms of how we might meet the needs of the field and our students.”
That philosophy has led the department to propose curriculum changes to improve student success and maintain the program’s relevance.
“We have this major change that’s going into effect in fall 2017 — the elimination of concentrations and creation of minors,” Barton said. “That’s one thing that’s happening. But at the same time, we’re proposing two new programs.”
Aiming to improve graduation rates, the criminology and criminal justice major will drop the requirement of a specialized focus. And instead, the concentrations in law enforcement, corrections, law and administration and forensic investigations will become optional minors. e required core will also pick up three new courses.
The two new cutting-edge programs — intelligence analysis and cyber and security studies — have been proposed and will require approval from Indiana State and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
If approved, the intelligence analysis major will offer special tracks in counterintelligence, criminal intelligence, intelligence operations and intelligence collection. The cyber and security studies major will offer two tracks, one in cybercrime and one in private security.
“There is a fast-growing need for students who can speak the language of these fields,” Barton said. “Those programs fit in terms of a national and international need that’s unfulfilled right now. We’re trying to be proactive in filling that niche. We want to be that program that when people say, ‘I’m interested in cyber studies,’ or ‘I’m interested in intelligence analysis,’ they come to us.”