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Criminal Justice's Accelerated Program Focuses on Students, Global Impact
“Bettering yourself and the world” isn't simply a throwaway comment at the tail end of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice's video on its Cohort Master's Program - it's a mantra faculty and students have come to embrace.
Since the program's inception in September 2009, more than 30 working professionals from the Dallas-Fort Worth area have reached the mid-way point to completing their master's degree. The unique program and positive feedback has generated interest from all over the world, and nearly 100 people have applied for a spot in the class this fall.
It's what program coordinator Kristin Cappallo calls an “unexpected” success.
“In a way, no one knew what to expect,” she said. “We just wanted to get the best students we could. But it's been phenomenal. The people in this first group have been fantastic; not just for us and the department, but professionally. They've come from all over the DFW Metroplex and represent all kinds of different positions. That's important because it fosters a local, relevant conversation.”
It's also spurred conversations outside the classroom - one of the primary reason the Criminology and Criminal Justice (CRCJ) office has been inundated with inquiries from corporate security, probation officers, federal agents, and local law enforcement.
“Our students seemed to be very pleased with the educational experiences they've had,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, CRCJ chair. “They've become our best source of advertisement. They have been telling other police and courthouse professionals about the program.”
The program works differently than the typical master's courses held on the Arlington campus. Students attend classes two nights a week in the university's Fort Worth center and focus on one seven-week course at a time. The program's non-thesis curriculum runs for two years and students are required to complete an oral presentation at the end. The course offers those working in the criminal justice field the potential to further their careers with an advanced management education.
The cohesiveness and pace of the program, del Carmen said, ensures a low dropout rate and a high success rate - mostly because students aren't overwhelmed or committing themselves to dozens of hours of class time each week.
“Most of our students are professionals who have a rather fixed schedule which impacts their availability to take classes,” he said. “Studies have shown most people enrolled in this type of program complete it. They begin and end as one family.”
Sgt. David Chaney of the Euless Police Department said the cohort program offers a complete package.
“[The program] has been very challenging and rewarding,” Chaney said. “I like the accelerated schedule, the interaction with students and professors and the curriculum is designed to balance theory and application in academic coursework.”
The flexibility of the classes and preparedness of the students has also allowed for greater success, Cappallo said.
“When you have professionals [in the classroom], there's a level of preparedness and organization,” she said. “That carries over into their education. They're getting things done two weeks before it's due or they want to know what is going to happen in the next class right now because they want to be ready. People who practice criminal justice like preparedness and readiness.”
Flexibility was essential for Arlington Police Sgt. Carol Riddle, who was also looking for classroom interaction over an isolated online course setting.
“I have always wanted to earn my Master's degree but with my work schedule I never thought I could add anything else to my plate,” she said. “[The program] is very challenging but at the same time flexible enough to deal with work issues. I am so glad that UTA initiated this program.”
Cappallo said she and her team are also getting ready for additional international interest. Already, two students - one from Asia, the other from North America - have expressed an interest in enrolling at the University of Texas at Arlington and pursuing their graduate degree through the cohort program. In early September, faculty members from CRCJ and the Department of Communication will present a joint-research paper on gangs in the U.S. at the European Association of Criminology's annual conference in Belgium. The international presentation is expected to generate attention for UT Arlington, Cappallo said.
Which, for del Carmen, brings things full circle.
“Criminology was born in Italy,” he said. “It's a European-based discipline. For us to be able to go to Europe and present innovative studies and for them to be interested â€¦ it's the greatest compliment we can get as criminologists today.”
Cappallo hopes that interest will strengthen the department's program and help UT Arlington standout internationally among its peers. She's also excited about the possibility of including more diversity into the cohort program.
“When you think about our continent, then our huge country, then our huge state, how did someone find out about us?” she said. “Luckily, they found UT Arlington. People are thinking about us.”
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