A new degree is being offered this school year under the sociology department. The criminal justice courses complete with the optional specialization of the major and minor are now available to any student who wants to either enter the law enforcement field or tentatively learn more about the criminal justice system.
“It’s (the criminal justice degree) part of the sociology department,” said Chair of the Division of History, Social Sciences, and Education Ph.D. Mary Ruthi. “It’s kind of like business, you can major in economics or you can major in entrepreneurship, but it is all part of the business major.”
There are five courses that are listed as criminal justice courses, but courses are also pulled from a number of other departments.
“The addictions class that is taught by the social work people,” Ruthi said, “intro to law is taught by the history department and the research methods courses are taught by a psychology professor.”
Currently, all of the criminal justice courses are taught by adjunct professor Officer Mike Petersen.
“Mike Petersen has been teaching those for us and he has already promised to continue with us next fall,” said Ruthi. “The hope is that at some point in the fairly near future, we will be able to hire someone and expand. That depends on how financing goes.”
Currently, the academic administration is in favor of offering and financing the program, according to Ruthi.
“We had talked about the idea (of offering a criminal justice degree) a number of years ago,” Ruthi said. “I actually put together a tentative proposal and the academic dean at that time said that we just couldn’t afford it. The current administration’s position is that even if we just have two or three majors, that is enough to pay for an adjunct’s salary to teach the classes.”
The criminal justice degree has 10 proclaimed majors. There are 16 students in the intro to criminal justice class this semester and eight in the upper division juvenile justice course.
“There are a number of prospective students who have said that they are going to come for the program next year,” Ruthi said. “I think a lot of it (the enthusiasm and interest in course enrollment) depends on the people who teach the class and I hear a lot of really positive things about the current professor.”
Officer Petersen has 20 years of law enforcement experience with particular practice in juvenile corrections and police administration. He also has an MBA and has previously taught criminal justice courses for four years at Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne.
“It (teaching at Huntington University) differs quite a bit from Indiana tech,” said Petersen. “I like that the basic foundation to all the degrees here is Christ and that He is the platform that we work build our careers upon.”
According to Petersen, it is important to look at law enforcement from a Christian perspective and to acknowledge that every life is important.
“I want to pass on my experience as a Christian in the criminal justice fields, because it is different,” said Petersen. “I didn’t give my heart to Christ until I was 27 and I became an officer at 21.”
Secular officers often fall into the trap of writing off criminals or thinking poorly of individuals who break the law, Petersen says.
“As a Christian police officer, you look at life differently,” Petersen said. “I don’t look at is as bad guys, good guys like I did before I came to know Christ. I look at it as bad decisions, good decisions and everybody has value.”
However, Petersen doesn’t want his students to only receive his perspective and learn of his own experiences in his classes.
“Not all of my students want to be officers,” said Petersen. “Some of them want to be detectives and even work for the FBI.”
In order to encourage student attention and to keep the courses practical for their future careers, Petersen plans to introduce guest speakers and connect students with professionals in their fields of interest.
Patrolman Rae Carpenter has visited the classroom to discuss her experiences as a young female officer and in the future Petersen hopes to introduce detectives, parole officers and police administrators to his classes.
“I might do some field trips in the future,” Petersen said. “They get the terminology from the textbook, but I want them to get the experience.”
Another tool that Petersen employs in attempts to make the courses interesting and applicable includes the introduction of realia and hands-on or visual stimulus.
“I brought my car down last semester and I will do that again and let the students go through the equipment,” said Petersen. “It’s something that piques the interest of the students and grabs their attention.”
Junior Accounting and Business Double Major Brittani Florian is currently taking one of the sociology department’s criminal justice courses with Officer Petersen and says that it is interesting and has fulfilled her expectations thus far.
“I am looking into becoming forensic accountant,” Florian said. “I am taking it (the course) to get a better understanding of the laws and the different criminal justice backgrounds and it’s very interesting. It gives me a different way of looking at things other than just the numbers.”
Ruthi believes that the criminal justice courses may be interesting and useful to students in any field of study and Florian would recommend the class to other students.
“People ought to try taking a class and see how they like it,” Ruthi said. “I think that they really will enjoy it.”