First class of criminal justice majors graduate from Penn State Berks

A new class of nearly 300 Penn State Berks students will receive their baccalaureate and associate degrees on Saturday, May 7, including the first graduates of the campus' criminal justice program. One of the main advantages of the Penn State Berks criminal justice program is that graduates are well prepared for various options: They can choose to work in all phases of the criminal justice system or to continue their studies in law school or pursue master’s and doctoral degrees.

Two criminal justice majors graduating on May 7 illustrate this point: Emilio Figueroa is pursuing a career in law enforcement, while Kiana Stokes is applying to graduate school with the hopes of becoming a college professor.

Figueroa seeks to be the change he wants to see

Emilio Figueroa Jr. understands the value of leadership. Raised by a single mother after the age of 12, he looks back on his childhood and acknowledges that his father’s absence from his life has shaped the role he wants to play in the world. More than most young men his age, he’s aware of the importance of authority figures in the lives of young people.

Born in a homeless shelter and raised in New York City, Figueroa is a first-generation college graduate who will earn his bachelor of arts in criminal justice with a minor in Spanish. He describes his past experiences and life lessons succinctly: as fuel to move forward. “Some people use the past as a reason not to move forward in life,” he said. He prefers to think of his past as “gasoline.”

Figueroa first visited Penn State Berks as a high school student and immediately felt that it was the right place for him. He began his college career in 2012 with the intent to transfer to University Park, but when he became an resident assistant in 2013 and learned that the criminal justice major was going to be offered at Berks, he decided to take advantage of the roots he had already put down and remain at Berks.

When asked, Figueroa said that he always knew he wanted to be a teacher or a lawyer — to work in a field that allowed him to become the authority figure and example that he lacked while he was growing up. His work as an RA allowed him to learn and grow as a leader to his fellow students, working as their counselor and policy enforcer. He developed a knack for leadership and eventually went on to hold the positions of chief of staff and vice president in the Student Government Association.

During his time at the campus, he completed internships with Penn State Berks Police Services, and in Housing and Food Services in loss prevention. Of his leadership roles and internships, Figueroa said, “I learned a lot and gained a lot of knowledge. Polices Services prepared me for a future career — speaking with people, doing the right thing, and holding an authority role.”

With an eye to the future, Figueroa admits he hopes to continue his education someday. In the meantime, he’s applied to work for the Secret Service, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the U.S. Capitol Police.

Stokes applies to graduate school with goal of becoming a professor

The daughter of a police officer, you might say Kiana Stokes was born with criminal justice in her blood. She will earn a bachelor of science in criminal justice from Penn State Berks to make that claim official.

Her college career took a bit of a circuitous route, beginning at Harcum College with a volleyball scholarship. After she hurt her back, she left Harcum and completed her associate degree in criminal justice at Reading Area Community College. Since Penn State Berks and RACC have a close working relationship, Stokes soon learned about the new criminal justice program coming to Berks, so she visited the campus and she liked the small campus environment.

During her time at the campus, Stokes completed an internship for Jennifer Murphy, criminal justice program coordinator. Her duties included promoting the major on campus. She also started and served as president of the campus' first Criminal Justice Club, which included 27 members in its first semester and received the Rookie Club of the Year Award. Stokes also helped to organize club field trips and to book speakers.

For her academic achievement, Stokes received the Criminal Justice Academic Excellence Award and made the dean’s list every semester.

Spending time working on promoting the degree program and organizing activities resonated with Stokes, and her future plans include applying to graduate school and eventually earning a doctorate in sociology with a focus in criminal justice. Her ultimate goal is becoming a college professor.

When asked how her time at the campus has prepared her for the future, Stokes said, “I really like that the criminal justice program prepares you to follow a variety of pathways after graduation, from a career in criminal justice to graduate or law school. The professors here are very involved and passionate; they motivate you as a student to be the same way. It makes a world of difference.”

About the criminal justice program

Penn State Berks began offering the criminal justice degree in the fall semester of 2014. In two short years, enrollment has grown to an estimated 70 students for the fall 2016 semester.

The criminal justice degree program provides strong preparation for the growing market in corrections, parole and probation, law enforcement, and the court system. The program places a strong emphasis on knowledge about the causes of crime. In addition to the breadth and depth of knowledge about criminal justice, the program cultivates skills in critical thinking, oral and written communication, issue analysis, problem solving, research, and computer literacy. The program helps students to become adaptable and flexible participants in the civic and intellectual life of their communities, to appreciate cultural diversity, and to practice ethical behavior.

Graduates of the criminal justice degree program will be well prepared to work in all phases of the criminal justice system or to continue their studies in law school or pursue master’s and doctoral degrees.

Penn State Berks offers both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in criminal justice. The bachelor of arts is an expanded liberal arts program and includes skill in a foreign language. This is an excellent choice for those students whose career direction requires a more broad-based understanding of American and international culture. The bachelor of science allows students to focus their degree requirement by developing a structured skills designed to meet their specific career goals. Both degrees include internship components in which students gain real-life experience and valuable networking contacts.

For more information about the criminal justice program, contact program coordinator Jennifer Murphy at 610-396-6050 or via email at [email protected].


Dr. Jennifer Murphy

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Berks

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