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University of Dayton Criminal Justice Studies program elevated to department, creating more experiential learning opportunities for students

By Dave Larsen

For more than 50 years, the University of Dayton has prepared students to serve the common good as law enforcement officers, lawyers, security professionals and social service providers. Now, criminal justice studies majors have greater research, collaboration and experiential learning opportunities with their program’s transition to a department within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The newly rechristened Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies is home to the third-largest major in the College’s social sciences division. Its elevation from an interdisciplinary program to a department is expected to increase its visibility in the region, improve faculty and student recruitment, and better reflect the homeland security and cybersecurity aspects of its curriculum. 

The designation also enhances the department’s ability to get students out of the classroom and connected with community organizations, said Martha Hurley, professor and Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies (CJSS) chair.

“In order to understand the root causes of injustice and assist with vocational discernment — helping them find their calling — we need to be able to connect with businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and the like,” Hurley said. “In the state of Ohio, criminal justice is typically a department, not a program. We ran into some barriers trying to connect students as a result of that.”

Since becoming a department July 1, CJSS launched a new partnership with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to provide internship opportunities to students, particularly those from Illinois who are living at home during the summer months. Hurley said other agencies are now approaching the department about similar agreements.

“The change to a department will give CJSS more legitimacy, especially when working with agencies for experiential learning opportunities, which is a vital part of our college experience,” said Claudia VanZandt, a junior criminal justice and security studies major from Dayton.

VanZandt had internships with the Ohio Innocence Project and Montgomery County Juvenile Court Probation Services. Those opportunities gave her first-hand experience in areas of interest and altered her potential career path.

“Working in juvenile court had never even crossed my mind prior to my internship,” she said. “The experience completely changed my idea of what I want to do post-graduation and now I am planning to pursue a career in the field of juvenile justice.”

Julia Jenkner, a senior criminal justice and security studies major from Algonquin, Illinois, had an internship with the Montgomery County Adult Probation Services Department and also recently interviewed for an internship with the U.S. Secret Service. She said the law enforcement professionals with whom she worked and met all spoke highly of the top-tier applicants they see from the University. 

“Going forward, I have a lot of confidence knowing that we have such a good reputation within the City of Dayton law enforcement community, that they know what to expect from me and what kind of student and worker I am from being part of the criminal justice studies department,” Jenkner said.

Criminal justice and security studies’ shift to a department follows the 2018-19 expansion of its curriculum from a single curricular path to four separate concentrations: criminal justice studies, pre-law, cyber security management and business intelligence. Student enrollment increased nearly 45% after the addition of new security-related elements. The department has 178 undergraduate majors and 19 minors enrolled during the 2021 fall semester.

As a department, CJSS will have dedicated tenure-line faculty to recruit, educate and mentor its students. In August, the department welcomed a new assistant professor, Mark Morgan, who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. From 2019 to 2021, Morgan served as a policy advisor at the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hurley said the department’s goals include diversifying the criminal justice professions by recruiting diverse students and emphasizing ethics, integrity, understanding social justice and creating deeper connections to community.

Criminal justice and security studies has created pathways with Sinclair Community College, which has a more diverse student population than the University of Dayton. During the 2021 fall semester, 25% of CJSS majors are multi-ethnic students.

First-year students can now apply for the department’s new 3+2 program with the University of Dayton School of Law, which allows criminal justice and security studies majors with a pre-law concentration to earn a bachelor’s degree and a law degree in five years.

“When you couple the Sinclair pathway with the new 3+2 program, we really are generating highly qualified students who have transitional skill sets,” Hurley said. “They are more diverse than any time in the history of this major and agencies are coming to us to pick those students up.”

For more information, visit the Department of Criminal Justice and Security Studies website.

Pictured, from L to R: Claudia Vanzandt, Martha Hurley and Julia Jenkner

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