Real-world experiences strengthen criminal justice program
(June 10, 2014) - Jordan Wenslow, a senior majoring in criminal justice at the University of North Georgia (UNG), expected Friday to be a quiet end to his internship with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, but those expectations were shattered when an armed assailant attempted to storm the courthouse.
Wenslow was wrapping up two weeks on courtroom detail when Dennis Ronald Marx drove up to the building and exchanged gunfire with deputies. Marx was killed in the shootout and a deputy was injured.
"We were in courtroom one downstairs, about 20 yards from the front door, when he drove up," Wenslow said. "One deputy told us all to get down and then headed toward the front, while another deputy stayed in the room with us. We heard numerous gunshots, then we were escorted to an inmate elevator and were evacuated through the back of the building. The deputies did a great job and really took care of us."
Wenslow said the unprecedented experience didn't affect his career plans; he feels his education at UNG and his internship will help him get noticed by potential employers.
"They know that because I am from UNG I will already have a lot of hands-on experience, including internships, and that I will be able to apply what I've learned in the classroom to the real world," Wenslow said.
Students in UNG's Department of Criminal Justice are required to complete 320 work hours with the agency of their choice, and earn 12 credit hours toward degree completion. The mandatory internship is a vital element of the criminal justice degree programs, according to Dr. Brent Paterline, professor of criminal justice.
"Many of our students expect to go on to careers in criminal justice, and it is in the interests of both the university and local agencies to create the conditions that enable a student to gain practical learning experiences," said Paterline, who directs the department's internship program. "For criminal justice agencies, our internship program is a recruitment tool and selection process. The majority of our students obtain jobs at the agency for which they interned."
UNG's Department of Criminal Justice places approximately 90 interns a year with various criminal justice agencies across the state. The Internship Agency Appreciation Breakfast recently brought some 16 of those agencies, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Corrections, and the Roswell and Gainesville police departments, to the university to thank them for providing professional and meaningful internships.
"The Department of Criminal Justice has always included practical experiences in the curriculum through the mandatory internship, but we also see the value of incorporating these experiences throughout the degree program," said Dr. Jennifer Allen, head of the Department of Criminal Justice. "Students strongly benefit from meeting and interacting with current professionals in the field, and they see the material they learn in class come to life through this involvement."
The department also places great emphasis on bringing active field professionals on campus to help students see real-world application of their studies. Recent visits have included presentations by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, which held a full-day event for criminal justice majors, presentations from bomb technicians with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and a lecture by Brian Owens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections.
During his visit, Owens spoke to some 100 students about criminal justice reform and initiatives aimed at lowering the number of those incarcerated in Georgia and fielded questions regarding employment with the Department of Corrections.
The DEA event included presentations on topics ranging from drug trafficking to field intelligence. Students got to wear SWAT gear, explore DEA drug lab trucks and equipment, and handle tools used to raid drug labs.
"Several of the DEA presentations had really good information; I and the other students enjoyed them," Wenslow said. "I want to eventually work in law enforcement for a narcotics division, so those presentations were especially helpful to me."