MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Criminal Justice Administration partnered with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Murfreesboro Police Department and noted MTSU forensic science instructors for the inaugural Criminal Justice High School Educators Professional Development Workshop.
The two-day workshop in early July provided hands-on training with criminal justice and forensic science professionals for 31 educators representing 14 counties and 25 high schools from across the state.
MTSU Criminal Justice Administration associate professor Elizabeth Wright developed the workshop after seeing a need for professional development for criminal justice teachers, who are part of the state’s career and technical education programs.
“There really isn’t anything for professional development for these teachers except for pedagogy. So I thought, ‘Let’s reach out and see if we can help them,’” said Wright, who specializes in victimology and victim advocacy. “Things are changing in the (criminal justice) field all the time.”
Career and technical education programs in criminal justice get high school students ready for the next level, whether they plan on going into law enforcement, forensics or law school. So Wright assembled experts in the fields of crime scene investigation, criminal law and forensic science who worked in conjunction with MTSU faculty to present course material.
Interactive training was designed to help educators take that knowledge and apply in the classroom setting.
Tobey Alonso, criminal justice teacher at Coffee County Central High School in Manchester, Tennessee, said his students are fascinated by the FBI/TBI and typically enjoy knowing more about those career paths, thanks to shows like “Criminal Minds” and “C.S.I.” The workshop’s classes on crime scene investigation provided the most benefit for his curriculum.
“They were able to highlight a handful of criminal justice elements and pass on that knowledge,” Alonso said.
Jimmy Cassidy, a criminal justice administration teacher at Murfreesboro, Tennessee’s Blackman High School who will graduate from MTSU in August with a master’s in criminal justice, said the workshop will help him better prepare his students for what comes after high school.
“Having a workshop like this allowed professionals to come in from the workforce and explain what these students need when they come out,” Cassidy said. “That helps us focus on what we are teaching and how we are teaching so our students can be better applicants for the workforce.”
Not only does the workshop help educators, but it helps get the word out about MTSU’s criminal justice and forensic science programs, said Lee Wade, professor and interim associate dean of the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences. “Some of the high school teachers have requested having our reps out to their schools for recruitment already,” Wade said.
Many of Alonso’s students are already interested in MTSU. “I teach in a county that borders Rutherford County. A lot of my students attend MTSU after high school and being able to provide them with first-hand knowledge regarding the professors and facilities also brings more value into the classroom,” Alonso said. “I’m excited to see how (the workshop) grows from here on out. They did an excellent job.”
MTSU offers three distinct majors related to criminal justice: a general criminal justice focus, law enforcement, and emergency management/homeland security.
Criminal justice professors have professional field experience and maintain contacts in their respective fields, Wright said. “We also have a Criminal Justice Advisory Board that helps inform us of shifts in the field in terms of developing new classes,” Wright said, adding that staying connected with professionals keeps MTSU professors abreast of what’s changing, what’s new and how to stay relevant in the field of criminal justice administration. “We are reaching out into the community and trying to make and continue relationships with kids and their teachers so we can do whatever we can to give back and then make that transition a smooth one so students know what they are getting into, know exactly what their choices are and make their college experience a great one for them,” she said.
“One of the teachers (in the workshop) said a number of students said, ‘I’m not college material.’ They feel like they don’t have the skills necessary,” Wright said. But MTSU is a place where those first-generation college students can succeed, she said. “I think having teachers come to MTSU, we are opening doors to all the youth and let them know we will provide all the support you need to succeed,” Wright said.
To learn more about criminal justice administration at MTSU, visit www.mtsu.edu/criminaljustice.
— This article was written by Nancy DeGennaro