Happy Monday morning! Today we’ve got a major that from my experience is a bit more rare (I have never met anyone on campus with this major). My good friend Carly was gracious enough to tell me all about her degree. In fact, I actually chose one of my electives based on the information from this interview, so take it away Carly!
What is your degree (do you have an emphasis or minor)? Why did you choose your degree?
My degree was in Criminal Justice, or “Justice Studies” as it was titled at Grand Canyon University. I didn’t have a minor, although I came very close to having enough credits to minor in Christian Studies. It wasn’t intentional; I just naturally desired taking Christian courses and I always filled my elective schedule with those studies. By the time graduation was around the corner, I noticed that I was only a few credits short of being able to minor in Christian Studies, but didn’t feel the need to prolong graduation to have a minor. I chose my degree because I had been through a really hard experience in my life before attending GCU, and as a result, I greatly desired to get into the world of justice. I wanted to contribute to people feeling safe and protected, and I wanted to do what little I could to ensure that dangerous people were not capable of hurting innocent people. I didn’t know exactly what that would look like for me, but I wanted to at least begin heading down that road.
What kinds of courses did you have to take? What kinds of assignments did you have to do a lot of (tests, papers, lab reports, etc.)?
Aside from the obvious pre-requisite courses that any bachelor degree requires, as well as electives and basic university courses, I had to take many interesting classes that ultimately gave insight to the many aspects of the world of criminology. I learned about broken glass theory, and how police officers have better success with reaching and protecting their communities through order and cleanliness. I learned a broad array of Arizona statutes and laws, how to interpret/apply them, and got a taste of how lawyers daily utilize over them in efforts to fight for their clients and their rights by studying real past cases. I learned how these things (police, lawyers, and their efforts, etc) take part in our overall government system, and how each branch and system are designed to harmoniously work together for our freedoms and our safety in America. I learned patterns of past serial killers and how to identify their behaviors, to contribute that knowledge to overall crime deterrence. I learned about correctional facilities, systems, failures, and strengths presented through our prison systems. I even had the privilege of taking a physical tour of a local prison here in Arizona. It was an incredible learning experience. Of course, as most college courses are, the bulk majority of my assignments were written. I wrote and submitted many essays throughout my few years at GCU. Despite the bulk of the assignments being simple essays, the content of the courses required for a Justice Studies degree truly kept my intrigue high, and my interest in justice as passionate as ever.
What was the hardest part of your degree?
I would say the hardest part of my degree was the negative side of the content of what I was learning. Getting a peek into criminals’ minds, observing first hand how they act in their prison environment, and seeing the pure evil that some people are driven by, was something that occasionally shook me to my core as I pursued my degree. Sometimes it was eye-opening. Sometimes it was simply horrifying. Sometimes it just strengthened my desire to be educated in a way that would maybe someday help me to play a role in protecting innocent people. And, in turn, I hoped it would also mean that I could play my small part in getting the dangerous people locked up. Again, I wasn’t sure exactly what my role would be in that very large picture yet, but I was anxious to at least start down that path via the education it required.
What was your favorite part of your degree?
As I said above, it was very interesting content to learn, and I couldn’t help but feel excitement that this degree could lead me to play a role in overall justice for people. Safety and justice were things I felt were important in learning about crime and how to have an understanding of the authorities’ efforts in deterring it.
Did you have a favorite class/subject in your studies?
If I remember right, Criminology and Correctional Functions were my favorite classes that pertained to my degree. In criminology, I was fascinated by learning not only about the unique criminals we studied but also about the mindset police officers have toward criminals. It was very interesting learning theories, how we can try to make communities safer through small and achievable measures, and specific things police officers look for in criminals and how to attempt to deter future crime. Officers are very trained in looking for repeat offenders, as well as many other things that ultimately lead to justice. In my Correctional Functions class, I was fascinated learning about the court proceedings that lead to inmates being imprisoned in different levels of security, which are basically dependent upon the depth of their crimes committed and their level of danger. I learned much about the role of correctional officers, what difficulty they have in encountering and mandating sentenced criminals daily, and the safety parameters that they must ensure they take to remain safe from these experienced criminals.
How did you study best?
I’m a Type A personality, a perfectionist, and I work very hard to be a good student. I graduated Summa Cum Laude, and I worked very hard for that. As I said, most of the work was done through extensive essays. But, as in any schooling, there are also many tests to pass to show that the information is actually taking root in your mind. I always studied best by being alone (sometimes a study partner would help if there were “flashcard” type terms they could help drill me with), in a quiet atmosphere, where I could really focus on memorizing and ensuring I understood my material correctly. I could not focus if there was music, movies or TV playing in the background, etc. I worked best studying alone in a quiet place. I usually did fine with natural background noise, like nearby cars on a busy street, or the constant buzz of people talking around the campus if I were studying outside or in the cafeteria, but other than that, I just needed silence for me to focus. I worked very hard in high school too, from which I graduated with a 4.0 GPA; so I already had a good understanding of what worked best for me in times that I needed to focus hard on my studies and assignments. I didn’t like procrastinating or getting distracted from my work!
What skills should someone develop if they want to pursue your degree?
First of all, you kind of need to have thick skin. I wasn’t very prepared for that when I was walking into it. I became very interested in the role of a correctional officer as a result of my Correctional Functions course, but I learned very quickly that I wasn’t built for that kind of job. The tour we experienced at the local prison was incredible and very interesting, but the few things the prisoners yelled out to us as we walked by them were enough to make me realize I was certainly not capable of working in an environment of such evil people. It didn’t deter me, however, from still desiring to pursue something in the world of criminology and justice.
Secondly, I would say be prepared for an array of studies. You don’t zero in on only police work, or just studies on law, etc. This degree covers all areas of this system of government. It covers the laws, the concepts of criminology and examples of notorious criminals to study; it covers court proceedings from beginning to end, and consequently the different types of sentencing and how that translates to corrections. Justice Studies includes everything encompassing justice, from beginning to end; from laws, to the breaking of said laws, and finally to the punishment of those broken laws.
Thirdly, know that this is a stepping stone into any of those careers. When I was going for my degree, everyone asked me what my goal career was, assuming that I either wanted to be a police officer or a lawyer. Truth be told, I didn’t want to be either of those. I didn’t know exactly which path I was going to take, but knew I wanted it to be in the world of justice. It’s okay to not know at the beginning. You don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the sure paths of others, or by the lack of clarity on your own path. As long as this is your passion and you know you want to do something in the world of justice, move forward with your degree, and your path will unfold before you.
What were your next steps after graduation?
By the time graduation came and left, I decided I would love to start in administration for a police department. However, many positions are hard to get into without experience of previous work in departments or at least internship experience. I had a hard time finding any job for that matter, searching eventually for almost anything that would pay me more than an average job considering I had just obtained my bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, it was a difficult time for anyone searching for jobs. It took me a few months of lowering my standard each week that I searched for work. I finally was taken on by a recruiting company a few months after I graduated, and they got me a temp-to-hire position as an Underwriting Specialist at an auto-loan financing company. It was not what I hoped for, but it was at least income after graduation. After three months of technically being a “temp”, they chose to hire me on full time. I was grateful for the stability and the growth I was experiencing in a work field. Again, it wasn’t what I hoped for, but it was a job! After nine months at the company, I put in my two weeks notice just before delivering my first child. Since then, I have been a stay at home mom. It’s been 4.5 years since I have been almost completely outside of the workforce, aside from some occasional side jobs I’ve taken on.
I have a few thoughts on the topic of becoming a stay at home mom after obtaining my degree. First of all, it was not a waste of time! I learned so much during my time at the Christian university, and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing. Secondly, when I began at GCU, I was just a single young person, looking to begin a career to take care of myself. I didn’t anticipate that by the time of graduation I would be married, not having to be the sole provider of my life. And, after only a few months of graduating, I unexpectedly became pregnant with my first child. All this to say, at the beginning of my college journey, I was doing what I thought I would need to to provide for my future self. I had no way of anticipating that my life would look so different by the end of my studies! Secondly, the degree is not wasted. I’ve known many women who were finally able to pursue the degree or career that they had in mind after the very high demands of a full-time stay at home parent were over. I very well could pursue work in the field I originally passionately desired; my future is completely open to the possibility of pursuing a career in some form of justice for others, once my kids are grown and my season of daily sowing into them has come to an end. Everyone’s story ends differently, and I believe that’s part of what we can admire in a world of unique people, different interests and preferences, and the many paths that university degrees lead to.
Anything else you would like to tell someone who is interested in your degree or is already pursuing your degree?
In addition to the information above, I would like to encourage someone in my degree to consider working a job that is relative to your pursued degree. I worked at a law firm during my studies, and it was incredibly helpful. The things I was learning at school had much to do with the court proceedings I was witnessing at my job. I only worked part-time; usually two days a week at the firm, and three days a week of classes on campus. But the part-time work was the perfect balance of maintaining a minor income, and more importantly, seeing my lessons from school in action. I understood some of my school concepts much better when through the lens of the attorneys I worked for. Even if you aren’t getting paid, and you’re putting time into an internship of some sort that’s relative to your studies, it would be incredibly helpful in applying the lessons. It’s like taking the words from a textbook and seeing them applied in the real world. It’s not necessary, but it is incredibly helpful and beneficial, in my opinion.
Thank you so much for your insight Carly! Join us again next week to hear from a Biblical Studies major!