What My Master’s Did for Me: An Interview with Patrol Officer Justin May and Lieutenant Mike Lewis

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Author: Katherine Jurak, Kent State University

Justin May (MA Criminology and Criminal Justice, Kent State University) is a patrol officer with the Kent State University Police.

Mike Lewis (MS Criminal Justice, Youngstown State University) is an administrative lieutenant with the City of Kent Police Department.

Katherine Jurak (KJ): Many people working in law enforcement choose to do their professional development through FBI workshops or other hands-on courses. Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree?

Justin May (JM): Law enforcement workshops typically train on specific procedures and tactics with some introduction to theory. The master’s program complimented the workshops I’ve attended nicely by providing a deeper understanding of the theoretical and academic side of law enforcement.

Mike Lewis (ML): It is true that many people in law enforcement do professional development through workshops. I found police positions in this area to be very competitive, with sometimes a few hundred people applying for just a couple of openings. I ended up paying my own way through the police academy, like most applicants at that time. I applied to graduate school during the academy so that there would be no gap or downtime, and I was determined to keep building a more attractive resume. Those investments paid off, and I was able to earn an initial part-time job at a small department and then was hired just a few months later as a full-time officer for the City of Kent.

KJ: How do you use what you’ve learned in your degree in your everyday work?

JM: Understanding the theoretical side of crime and justice has strengthened my skills in problem analysis, training development, and decision-making. My writing skills were refined as well, allowing me to communicate ideas more effectively. Another key benefit is the open-mindedness and awareness that come from interacting with a diverse group of classmates across the various concentrations under the criminology master’s umbrella.

ML: I can’t say I apply it every day. I did not apply much to my graduate studies until I joined the administration, which was expected. One of my most successful applications was in grant writing. The grant writing course I had taken in college definitely helped take some of the fear out of taking on a grant project. I successfully earned the first grant I ever applied for, which funded a community engagement program at the police department. It was very rewarding and something I was very proud of.

KJ: Who do you think should consider a master’s in criminal justice and/or criminology?

JM: The master’s program would benefit any law enforcement professional looking to take on a leadership role or otherwise advance their career. Understanding the “why” behind our actions is very important to the younger generations in law enforcement and the community. The theoretical knowledge gained in a master’s program will prepare leaders to engage in discussion from an open-minded and informed position.

ML: It’s not for everyone. I cannot say for certain that I would have pursued a master’s degree if I had not already started it before I became a police officer or if I hadn’t sought promotions. The benefits and rewards will vary greatly by department. The department I work for does not require a college education to be eligible for advancement or promotion, but other departments have such requirements. There are some agencies that require certain levels of college degrees just to be hired at the entry-level. The education requirement to become a police officer in Ohio is nothing more than a GED [but] there is value in college education. Even if there is a disconnect between theory and practice, there is value in the education and experience one gains through the courses and projects of a master’s program.

KJ: Many thanks to Justin and Mike for their perspectives on the interplay between theory and practice in policing. If you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree in criminology or criminal justice, the Kent State University Master’s Program in Criminology and Criminal Justice is 100% online and designed with the schedules of working adults in mind; you can earn a graduate degree in as little as two years by taking one seven-week class at a time. For more information, visit us at https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/sociology/criminal-justice.

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