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Learning Center Experience
Welcome to Kaplan University's 30 Days of Inspiration series. Every day for 30 days, we will feature touching, true stories about College of Social and Behavioral Sciences faculty, students, and graduates making a positive impact in the world.
Angelo Michael Irizarry Jr. has been a senior investigator with the Stafford County Sherriff’s Office in Stafford, Virginia, for the past 8 years. He is currently working on his Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice online at Kaplan University. Once completing his degree he hopes to ultimately “become a professor with Kaplan University.” As a senior investigator assigned to property crimes, Irizarry investigates burglaries and thefts, develops probable cause, arrests suspects, and tries to return stolen property to the victims. In addition, he is trained to serve as a patrol officer and handle any type of investigation. Irizarry spent many years as a patrol officer and has served his community as an officer for nearly a decade. His most memorable moment involved him saving a woman and her dog from a fire. While on duty he noticed an apartment building billowing black smoke. It was filled with people and the fire department had yet to arrive. Irizarry and his fellow officers sprung into action and worked quickly to remove people from the building. As they kicked in doors and broke windows to get people to safety, one woman was so frazzled that she ran away from the officers and further into the blazing building. Irizarry followed behind her without hesitation, picked her up, and took her and her dog to safety. He said, “the apartment was filled with smoke . . . that was one of the scariest but most rewarding days on the road.” For his actions he received a Meritorious Award from the department.As an officer, the impact that Irizarry makes in his community is one of the reasons that he chose a career in public service. Although he has locked away criminals and saved lives, he still values the mentorship of his pastor who regularly inspires him to stay on the right path and pursue his dreams. Irizarry has sound advice for those contemplating a career in public service: “Learn all you can about what you want to do and get your college degree.” Irizarry is certainly a great example of how education and real-world experience lead to success.
Stacy Daniels is currently an adjunct professor teaching lower division psychology and upper division applied behavior analysis courses in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Kaplan University. Daniels also works as a behavior consultant at the Institute for Applied Behavior Analysis (IABA) in Los Angeles, California. For the past 25 years, she has supported IABA's various programs including family homes, the day program, the supported living service, schools, and group homes. In her positions as manager and director, she provides positive behavioral support services to individuals with developmental disabilities and major behavior problems.
Daniels’ passion and dedication to her work is very much rooted in IABA’s goal of assuring the individuals they serve the highest quality of life possible by enabling them to live in natural settings with a positive community presence. Many of the individuals Daniels works with have lived in hospitals their entire lives. She enjoys that her work enables her to give people the opportunity to live the most normal and unrestrictive lives possible, and that she provides the support they need to be successful.One of Daniels’ most moving experiences at IABA occurred several years ago when she began working with a 50-year-old gentleman with moderate intellectual and behavioral challenges. Upon speaking with him to assess his goals, Daniels discovered that the man had lived in a state hospital his entire life and that his only ambition was to eventually have a key to his own front door, something he had never had. Over time, and through Daniels’ and her team’s positive behavioral support services, the gentleman made great progress and was able to lead a much more regular life. According to Daniels, watching the people she works with develop and reach their goals is an amazing thing to experience and inspires her every day. Daniels’ profound work in public service has changed and improved lives. She’s helped disabled people become independent in a community and contribute to that community when they might not have had that opportunity otherwise. Her favorite part of her career is spending time with the individuals she serves and witnessing their accomplishments. “When they succeed, we as the team behind them and supporting them succeed,” says Daniels. “For me, work is always a challenge, but when your work involves improving people’s lives, it’s a great and rewarding thing.”
Graduate Alissa Lee made a commitment 14 years ago to do what she loved: work with children. She established her own day care practice and continued to be a strong single mom to her two sons. In addition, she recommitted herself to making this world a better place for kids to grow up, and found herself drawn to those most disadvantaged: orphans around the world. To make the impact she wished to make, Alissa knew she needed to further her education.Alissa earned her Bachelor of Science in Human Services with an emphasis in child and family welfare. Her education has inspired her to think deeply about the challenges in international adoption and the needs of orphans. In 2011, Alissa was inspired to start a charity, Sweet Miracles 4 Kids (sweetmiracles4kids.weebly.com), which sells chocolates and candies. In 2011 alone, Alissa’s charity raised $8,000 to fund two mission trips to orphanages in the Philippines, bringing these orphanages much-needed supplies and joy to the children. In 2012, she seeks to expand her work to help families gain the needed funds to adopt, and to help Joana—an 18-year-old orphan who has overcome the odds to become a star high school student—pursue a college degree.View the winning contest entry at alissaleeinspirecontest.weebly.com
Lead First-Class Petty Officer Jose Valencia has protected and served his country and community for more than 13 years. Currently, Valencia is studying criminal justice at Kaplan University. He credits his success in the public service field to the influence of committed mentors and a strong educational background. Valencia is also an integral member of his naval base at Key West, Florida, where he serves as a manager, trainer, and mentor to more than 65 young sailors. He is proficient in a number of different fields and has been charged with supervising the Base Marina, conducting gun range certifications, and providing emergency vehicle training to other officers. In addition to his supervisory roles, Valencia spends most of his day as a law enforcement officer. As an officer, he responds to emergency calls, enforces naval laws, protects the base, and monitors naval and civilian interaction. Valencia describes the opportunity to protect and serve his fellow sailors as “an honor” and says he values the opportunity to make society safer for sailors and civilians alike. Although Valencia has influenced a number of lives as a law enforcement officer, his most vivid recollection of the impact he’s had as a public servant happened shortly after the attacks of September 11. Following the attacks, Valencia was recalled from his post in Japan to serve in a counter-terrorism patrol post outside of Guam, which included bringing supplies to the people each week. While protecting the nation of Guam for more than 30 days, Valencia had an opportunity to interact with the locals. When remembering the time he spent delivering supplies he said, “I will never forget their smiling faces…they really tried to keep our morale high.” This is when Valencia said he realized that his job was as much about helping individuals as it was about protecting our nation. Currently, Valencia serves as a mentor to young naval officers and provides guidance concerning their military careers. For those hoping to enter the field of public service, Valencia offers the advice: “You have to really want to do it and be willing to do the right thing even when no one is looking.” His genuine commitment to protecting and serving his community is admirable, and we are lucky to have individuals like Jose Valencia protecting our freedom every day.
Sarah Barrett currently works as an adjunct professor in the Educational Studies department in the College of Arts and Sciences at Kaplan University. She is also an adjunct professor teaching educational studies at Mesa Community College in Arizona. Barrett’s strong educational background, including degrees in early childhood development, education and special education, has prepared her not only for her career but also for life.Barrett attributes her initial interest in education to the summers she spent as a teenager working with her mom, a special education teacher, at a summer camp for children with special needs. When it came time to decide on a career path, she knew without a doubt that she wanted to work with families and kids and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Barrett went on to teach at the preschool level, followed by work with social services in San Diego. While she loved working with families, she quickly realized how much she missed the one-on-one interaction with children and began teaching special education in Anaheim City public schools. It was then that her passion for education took an unexpected turn. While teaching in the public schools, Barrett had a student with autism. As she worked with him in class and built a relationship with his mother, she became incredibly inspired, recognizing the joy he brought to their lives, but also seeing the struggle that he and his family faced in the public school system. “I was still very young and didn’t have children yet, but I realized then and there that I wanted to make a difference for children who had special needs,” says Barrett. She remembered the joy she felt spending summers working with kids with special needs at the summer camp, and decided to study for her master’s degree in special education.Since then, Barrett has been a powerful advocate of early intervention and special education. When she became a parent of a child with special needs, her mission was further solidified. “I realized that all of the struggles that the families of my students were going through, I was now experiencing myself,” says Barrett. “It opened my eyes even more to the fact that the school system was not providing these children with the special services they need and deserve.” Today, Barrett uses her own education and background to teach and make others aware of the importance of special education, and to work with her son’s school to ensure that he and other children with special needs receive a quality education. “A child’s development can’t improve if the resources they need to be successful are not being provided,” says Barrett. “I’m striving to make a difference in the lives of children, educators and future educators. We can make adaptations to ensure that every child succeeds, and that children with special needs never have to settle.”
Melissa Harner is a former U.S. Navy Legalman and currently works for the Federal Health Care Center as a facility revenue technician in Park City, Illinois. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies and her Master of Public Administration at Kaplan University. Harner says that her education not only “opened more doors of opportunity” but also “gave me an edge in my career with everyday tasks [at work].” Her position allows her to directly aid veterans who are seeking to claim benefits. This includes troubleshooting billing issues, managing mental health visits, assisting those claiming workers’ compensation, and handling sensitive medical information. She has also been designated as her department’s official timekeeper and trainer. Harner sees a number of veterans each day, but one particular instance stands out in her mind. While helping a young man who was seeking to claim benefits for his grandparents, who were both veterans of World War II, she empathized with the man’s desperation for aid. Harner also dealt with the difficulties associated with obtaining benefits for elderly relatives as she had experienced similar issues when seeking benefits for her 90-year-old grandfather who was also a veteran of World War II. “We sat and shared our experiences together, researched assistance programs, and obtained the help he so desperately needed,” she recalled. To this day, whenever this young man returns to the office he visits Harner to say hello. Personal connections like these are what make Harner so proud to aid her fellow veterans. The connection Harner feels to her fellow veterans makes her even more committed to her job. She believes that, “every interaction with fellow veterans lets them know that they have someone in their corner watching out for them.” This desire to look out for others likely derived from the mentorship she received as a young Naval officer. For those considering a career in public service she says, “Go for it! It is a way to give back and pay it forward.” With nearly 20 years of public service under her belt, she is still looking for new ways to aid veterans.
A faculty member of Kaplan University’s fire science program, Derrick Clouston says, “Public service is in my DNA; I think it’s something that’s engrained in me.” He’s served the public for 12 years as a field service supervisor with the Fire Marshal’s Office of North Carolina and for 24 years as a volunteer firefighter in Stoney Point, North Carolina. Clouston’s strong educational background, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration, prepared him for his field and his instructor training responsibilities in fire and rescue. His passion and dedication to a career in fire services has resulted in multiple accomplishments including graduating from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and being awarded the Chief Fire Officer designation by the Center for Public Safety Excellence. At 5 years old, Clouston dreamed of being a firefighter one day, but never imagined the opportunities he’d encounter while working with the fire department or how rewarding a career it could be. “Every day, I wake up knowing that it will be different than the day before, and that I’ll face new challenges, be it through a rescue or training,” says Clouston. “Firefighters are some of the most trusted public servants across the country, and it’s such a great feeling knowing that my work is appreciated and valued, and that inspires me to always do my best.” One of Clouston’s most vivid recollections in his career happened shortly after he became a state-certified fire instructor. On his first day of class, Clouston began working with an incoming group of young, inexperienced individuals aspiring to become firefighters. While working with the group, it hit him: training was his true calling. “As much as I enjoyed responding to emergency calls, that first group of students made me realize that my real passion was training and teaching people in the sector that I enjoy so much,” says Clouston. He attributes much of his passion for fire and rescue training to his students, who he says teach him just as much, if not more, than he teaches them.Clouston often views public service as somewhat of a cycle. As he’s had several mentors in his life who took the time to guide him and foster his goals, he believes it’s his duty to pay it forward by giving back to a profession that has given him so much. “I get paid to do my hobby every day. It’s something I love, and not many people can say that about their careers,” says Clouston. In return, Clouston always strives to improve and raise the bar on his programs, training, and service to maximize the benefits for future generations of firefighters and for the public as well.
Ricky Price is a highly decorated retired Air Force Pararescuer who served our country for nearly 30 years. He is currently pursuing a degree in criminal justice at Kaplan University in hopes of entering the juvenile justice field. While serving in Vietnam, he saved dozens of lives by removing wounded soldiers and civilians from battle zones. For his admirable service to our country, he has been awarded a Purple Heart for his sustained injuries and two Bronze Stars for heroic action in the field. When asked how he felt about the many years he spent rescuing others he replied, “I was just doing my job.”Of the many lives he touched as a Pararescuer, Price said one story has always stuck with him. While responding to a downed helicopter, he encountered a female commanding officer who was badly wounded, and as he tried to take her to safety she insisted that her soldiers be taken before her. Price was so moved by her dedication to her men that he stayed and stabilized her wounds even though the next helicopter to safety was not due to arrive until several hours later.Weeks later, while at a gas station outside of his base, a young girl ran up to Price, gave him a hug, and thanked him. He was confused until her mother, the female officer he had rescued, emerged from the car and expressed her gratitude once again. As Price put it, “No matter how small the rescue is, you’re giving them another chance at life.” That young girl let him know just how valuable that chance was.Although Price has retired from the military, he still has plans to continue to serve his community. This self-described “caregiver” says he hopes to spend his time after graduation saving the lives of troubled young men and women by working in juvenile justice. His past experiences mentoring young men and women who recently had entered the military helped him realize the impact that he could make on young peoples’ lives. Now Price declares that his mission is to “let the youth know that there is someone who will stand up for them, understand them, and give them a chance to succeed.” Without a doubt, Price has and will continue to positively impact his community through public service.
Dr. Sherri Davis is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Kaplan University and acts as the dean for academic affairs at Lawson State Community College in Helena, Alabama. In addition, Davis serves as creative director for Lawson State’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning, a program she developed and designed to train faculty in the latest technologies and teaching skills to generate better instructors. For the last 10 years, Davis has also served as the lead administrator for the Quality Enhancement Plan and Assessment and is responsible for ensuring Lawson State’s compliance with the organization’s various accrediting agencies. Davis’ work in public service began with an instinctual passion for education and touching lives. While Davis recognized her passion quite early in life, she was advised to take her career in a different direction and began working in corporate America as a pharmaceutical representative. Although successful in this role, she felt unfulfilled, and realized that she was not accomplishing what she aspired to accomplish—the opportunity to make a significant impact on, or worthwhile contribution to, someone’s life. It was then that she decided it was time to follow her instincts and passion. She returned to school to pursue and achieve a degree in education. On her first day as a high school English teacher, she walked into the classroom and knew she was right where she belonged. Davis finally felt fulfilled engaging with students on a daily basis, touching lives and becoming a mentor to many. She was driven to contribute her talents, skills, and knowledge to education, and went on to become a high school principal which led to her current profession in college administration. By following her heart and true passion, Davis found herself in a public service-oriented career that she loves. She’s dedicated herself to her joy in life—working with students and fulfilling the needs of the community of Lawson State Community College. “Having a career in public service is more than a passion, it’s a way of life,” says Davis. “By working at a community college, I am not only able to help my institution improve its quality of instruction, but also impact the community in such a transparent way by adding programs and certificates that the community needs.” Davis goes above and beyond in her role as a college administrator and educator, and her genuine love for her work is appreciated by all whose lives she impacts, inside the classroom and beyond.
Kaplan University proudly supports the men and women who make our communities safer every day. To learn more about preparing for a career in fire and emergency services, visit our public safety programs website: http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/public-safety.aspx
Marie Wallace has dedicated a majority of her life to building confidence in and promoting success among high school students. A high school guidance counselor for more than 20 years and currently an adjunct professor for the School of Education at Kaplan University, Wallace has impacted the lives of countless young people over the years by believing in change. She utilizes that belief to foster good behavior and a “never give up” attitude in her students. She is also a part-time consultant with Collaborative Autism Resources for Education (CARE) in Las Vegas, Nevada, providing special education and positive behavior support to autistic children and their families all over the world. Additionally, Wallace is secretary of the board for Fiftyone Plus You, Inc., an international nonprofit organization that aids abandoned and homeless children in Brazil and the U.S. through education and by providing career preparation programs in residential campus communities. Of the many lives Wallace has touched throughout her public service career, one story in particular has always stuck with her. While counseling at a high school in Mequon, Wisconsin, she encountered a female student who was constantly causing problems and had become the principal’s nightmare. Although loud, impulsive, and combative, Wallace was able to see through the student’s façade and bravado, to someone who was resilient, creative, and quite capable. During the 4 years that the student was assigned to Wallace’s counseling caseload, they had their ups and downs, and Wallace had to counsel her about fighting, her attitude, and her grades. The student learned and slowly changed. “Through all of our interactions, I let her know that I was there to help her succeed,” says Wallace. During the student’s senior year, it was discovered that she had failed sophomore English twice—a class that was required to graduate. Wallace made it her mission to ensure that the student passed the class, enrolling her in a sophomore English correspondence course, and spending two periods a day with the student in the guidance office. Despite the student’s academic, behavioral, and family issues, Wallace was there to listen, give support, and help her succeed. Graduation day for that student was more than a special event for the student, the student’s family, and Wallace. “She was on her way to a new life,” says Wallace. “She was accepted to college, made the dean’s list every semester, and graduated with honors. To this day I am still so proud.” According to Wallace, one of the most important things about being a counselor is treating everyone with respect, no matter who they are. Her firm belief that people have a wonderful capacity for change, and her understanding of people’s complexities, is what makes her successful in her work. By building relationships and working with students to nurture their strengths, Wallace has ensured that so many young people succeed when they otherwise might not have had the chance. “We must open our eyes, our minds and our hearts,” says Wallace. “Then working with people in public service becomes so much easier.”
Rafael Cruz currently works as a health care instructor at City College in Orlando, Florida. He is working on his master’s degree in higher education and hopes to eventually complete a PhD program. As an instructor, Cruz is able to help students attain real-life skills that prepare them to fill essential roles in the health care industry. When asked how his Kaplan University education benefits him in the workplace he said, “I get to take what I learn as a student right into the classroom and my students immediately benefit.” This longtime educator teaches a variety of courses ranging from Anatomy and Physiology to CPR and Computerized Medical Office Management. The combination of Cruz’s experience in the health care field and education has made him a well-rounded health care professional with a number of different skills. In addition to working as an instructor, he also serves as an onsite provider for Medicare and Medicaid, so that he can give back to those less fortunate. Cruz’s path to health care education is a direct result of his personal experiences. Nearly 20 years ago Cruz suffered a devastating leg injury that kept him in and out of the hospital for 3 years. Although many people told him he would never walk again, he beat the odds and regained full mobility. Rafael credits his recovery to the doctors, nurses, and assistants who encouraged him and believed that he would be able to walk again. This experience led him to pursue a career as a medical assistant, which eventually led him to become a health care instructor.Cruz takes his role as a college instructor very seriously and has committed himself to closely mentoring five aspiring health care professionals. One of the most rewarding parts of his job, he says, is seeing his students complete school and gain employment. For those entering the field of public service, he says that “it has to be something that you really love and you’ve got to really want to help people.” Cruz’s desire to help others and his dedication to his education makes him a valuable contributor to our community.
Catherine Prentice has spent the past 16 years in public service working with special needs populations. She is currently a high school special needs teacher with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools and an adjunct professor in the Human Service Department of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Kaplan University. Prentice’s strong educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in human services, a master’s degree in special education and an education specialist credential with a moderate/severe emphasis. Her extensive training and experience in working with the autistic population as well as the moderate/severe population prepare and qualify her to lead and teach severe and profoundly handicapped high school students.Due to severe autism and disabilities including quadriplegia, paraplegia and blindness, Prentice’s students are unable to take care of their own basic and personal needs. Furthermore, many of her students live in a group home for the majority of their lives and do not have a daily parental figure. As their teacher, Prentice strives to embody the roles of caretaker and parent, loving and caring for each student. “It makes me happy to know that I am making a change in their lives or putting a smile on their faces, and to see them reach milestones they never thought they would,” says Prentice. Quite recently, Prentice was reminded of just how inspiring her students can be. After working with a 14-year-old nonverbal cerebral palsy student for an entire school year, he is now able to sit up straight for 30 seconds on his own. He can now bare weight on his feet, which is a major accomplishment and something he was not able to do at all prior to his therapy and help from Prentice. “It was a very proud moment for me, and something I’ll never forget,” says Prentice. In addition to her work as a special needs teacher, Prentice advocates for the parents of her students to ensure that despite budget cuts, these special needs students are receiving the services they need. Because she is knowledgeable about the laws surrounding special education, both through her work and her experience as a parent of a special needs child herself, she is able to educate fellow parents on how to fight for their children's needs, whether it be services, therapy or funding. Prentice firmly believes that all students, regardless of their situation, deserve all of the resources necessary for them to succeed. “Education is journey,” says Prentice. “There’s nothing regular about regular education, and there’s nothing special about special education.”
Degree Program: Bachelor of Science in Human Services with an Emphasis in Child and Family WelfarePosition: Court Appointed Special Advocate Volunteer, CASA of Tarrant CountyLocation: Fort Worth, TexasJosey Dunagan’s position as a special advocate often involves meeting with children who have been placed with relatives or a foster family and with the children’s custodial families. She speaks on behalf of children at court hearings and makes recommendations about their permanent placements. She also assists parents and foster parents and works closely with Child Protective Services.Josey began to volunteer while working as a 911 operator, a position she has held for 12 years. “Doing this job had made me numb to the bad that happens to people because I deal with it every day," she said. "After I gave birth to my son, I was overwhelmed with the sense of how precious human life is. I grew tired and sick of the news constantly airing stories of abused and neglected children. I wanted to make a difference in children that are less fortunate. I love what I do [as a special advocate]. So I decided to become a social worker. I started school again after a 10-year hiatus.”
For the past 33 years, Mary Hoke has worked at Jewish Family & Children's Service (JF&CS) in St. Louis, Missouri, a research-based clinical organization that provides social services including emotional, spiritual, and physical therapy to children, parents, and families. She serves as an adjunct professor for the Department of Psychology at Kaplan University. Her passion for people and gift for listening have helped her succeed both as a counselor and teacher. Hoke discovered her passion for mental health studies early in life, earning bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in psychology, as well as a master’s degree in social work. At JF&CS, she has a diverse range of responsibilities. As the assistant executive director, she supervises a professional staff that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers. She also provides psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups, as well as psychological testing, assessment, and consultation with schools and organizations.Her work in public service is very much focused on families and children as well as those who are less fortunate and would otherwise not have access to mental health care. “My job is to help people normalize their experiences and optimize their lives,” says Hoke. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to have the very best life they can have, especially in the mental health arena.”The most inspiring aspect of Hoke’s work is knowing that she is helping to make her community a better place by providing intervention services to those in need. One of her most memorable cases involved a young man who was in a terrible car accident and suffered physical and cognitive damage, leaving him with lasting challenges. He had a hopeless outlook on life and no longer believed that a bright future was possible for him. For 2 years, Hoke worked with the young man, providing treatment and guiding him through his emotional recovery. With her help, his mood slowly improved and he was able to push through the hard times and accept the new challenges he now faced. The young man ultimately overcame the obstacles caused by the accident, attending and graduating from college and business school. Now working at a successful financial services business, he has plans for a family of his own. The most fulfilling moments in Hoke’s career are when the people she’s worked with and treated share with her how she’s changed their lives. “When they tell me that they really didn’t have a direction in life, but now know in their hearts that things are going to be better, and that life is now worth living, I’m completely satisfied,” says Hoke. “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my career and hope to pass on to future generations, it’s that public service inspires hope.”
Degree Program: Master of Science in Education with a Specialization in Teaching Students with Special NeedsPosition: Disability Placement Program Teacher for the High Desert State Prison Location: Susanville, CaliforniaKris Szovati collaborates with classroom teachers at a maximum-security prison to provide accommodations and differentiated instruction for students with disabilities. She has worked with inmates with learning disabilities as well as those who are physically, visually, or hearing impaired. She ensures that the institution complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and court mandates involving inmates with disabilities.Kris began her career teaching at-risk youth. “[It] was the beginning of my interest in learning and behavioral disorders,” she said. “I love seeing evidence that my students are learning. Many of them have not been successful in school...I get satisfaction out of seeing [them] overcome their negative views toward learning.”
Lelani Wilson graduated from Kaplan University with an Associate of Applied Science in Human Services and currently works at the Youth Emergency Services Shelter (Y.E.S.S.) in Des Moines, Iowa, as a resident advisor. In this role, she monitors teenage boys who have been removed from their families by Child Protective Services, minors who are transitioning from detention centers back into society, and foster children. Her long-term goal is to counsel the young men she is charged with monitoring and help them set standards that will lead them to become successful adults.Wilson says it has always been her dream to work with troubled young boys who have a difficult time expressing themselves. This is why one of her primary goals when interacting with youth in at Y.E.S.S. is to “let teenage boys realize that there is someone they can talk to without judging them.” Her belief is that “one bad choice does not make a bad kid,” and that with consistent guidance and care, these young men in difficult situations can be redirected. Wilson credits Kaplan University for encouraging her and providing an opportunity for her to work in public service. Kaplan University Career Services placed Wilson in her position as a resident assistant after graduation and she credits much of her success to the mentorship of her professor, Marilyn Jerome at the Des Moines campus, who gave her the extra push she said she needed. She now hopes to serve as a mentor to others and provide that extra push for someone else. The best advice she says she can offer those entering the field of public service is to “have a heart, compassion, and an open mind.” Her service to young men in vulnerable positions reflects all of those qualities and her desire to give hope and direction to our youth is admirable.
Dr. Jodie Kenney has been serving the public as a counselor and advisor to students for nearly 20 years. For the last 6 years, she has been the director and program coordinator of student retention in the College of Arts and Sciences at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is also an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Kaplan University. Dr. Kenney’s main role in her long career as an academic advisor has been to help students achieve ultimate success by encouraging them to discover their own passion and intellectual development, and navigating them on the path to reaching meaningful academic goals and career aspirations. Her educational background, including a master’s degree in educational counseling and a doctorate in educational leadership and administration with a specialization in higher education counseling, combined with her years of experience attribute to her success in and passion for college advising. Dr. Kenney has worked in education all of her life. Raised by a mother who was a teacher, she knew from a very early age that she wanted to give back and make an impact on students’ lives. She has always strived to share her knowledge and expertise to help the students she works with form a connection with their majors to prepare them to be productive citizens in the working world. “Many of my students often struggle academically, and my role is to help guide them to success,” says Dr. Kenney. “When they are successful, the most rewarding thing is knowing that I helped them walk across that graduation stage; that means more to me than anything.”A couple of years ago, Dr. Kenney was walking through the advising center and encountered an adult learner who was sharing his frustrations as a student with another advisor. An adult learner herself, Dr. Kenney immediately connected with the 60-year-old man and offered to help him. Although she was not his assigned advisor, she was there to guide him every step of the way of his college experience. He came to her with any issues he ever had, and she guided him on the path to achieving his goal of one day becoming an art teacher. “He was successful, and when he sent me an invitation to his graduation, I knew just how thankful he was that I was there to help make his dreams come true,” says Dr. Kenney. While Dr. Kenney has a passion for working with all students, she feels her greatest contribution is her work with adult learners. She has a high level of understanding for these students, as well as what they need to be successful in their academic career and what their goals are for the future. “I can relate to them because I’ve lived what they’ve lived,” says Dr. Kenney. “I can offer them something that other counselors cannot; I know what they need for success, and I love that it’s my job to share that with them.”
Jennifer Rucker is a lead teacher for the Head Start Program in St. Louis, Missouri, and has been for 3 years. She currently attends Kaplan University and will complete her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education next semester. As a mother, student, and teacher, there have been times when school became overwhelming, but she credits her professors at Kaplan University for giving her the support she needed. Rucker said, “My professors were compassionate and understanding. They were very supportive, provided lots of great feedback, and were not afraid to learn from their students.” She is able to apply the knowledge she’s gained as a Kaplan University student to provide a comprehensive education for the preschoolers she cares for each day. As a lead teacher she is responsible not only for designing curriculum, but supervising staff, organizing field trips, and working with parents by scheduling at-home and in-school conferences. Her work with the Head Start Program is especially challenging because many of the students come from low-income backgrounds. “Many have had stressful and traumatic experiences that they bring into the classroom,” Rucker said. As a result, one of the things she enjoys best about her day is “just being able to be there in the classroom and help alleviate students’ stress by helping them relax and talk through their problems.” Rucker’s experience working with children dates back nearly a decade and she has indicated that she intends on staying in the field for quite some time. Although she loves “getting to play and have fun,” she realizes the immense responsibility she has as an early childhood educator. “You have to set an example for the children,” she said, “and be that support system for young kids.” For those who aspire to work in public service one day, she advises that “you have to have the drive and passion, a pure heart, and a love of people.” Rucker’s unyielding desire to inspire today’s youth is helping to mold the leaders of tomorrow.
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Josh Shanley has served the public as a firefighter paramedic for 20 years and is currently the emergency management coordinator for the city of North Hampton in Massachusetts. He is also an adjunct professor for Kaplan University’s fire science program. Duties in his long career in public service range from emergency medical services and fire suppression as a tactical medic and rescue technician, to training and representing North Hampton in matters concerning disaster management as an emergency management coordinator. Shanley has also served as a canine handler with the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force and participated in the response to the World Trade Center attacks both in 1993 and again in 2001. While Shanley admits his favorite part of his career is the opportunity to work and engage with diverse people on a daily basis, the most rewarding aspect is by far the impact he has on lives in emergency and rescue situations. Recently, Shanley and his team received a call about a woman who had gone into cardiac arrest. When they arrived on the scene, the woman appeared lifeless. Shanley worked quickly to perform CPR and revived the victim. “The feeling of preserving life and knowing that if it were not for you, a person might not be alive, is just incredible,” says Shanley.Drawing on a diverse educational background including biology, educational management, a paramedic certification, and an MBA, as well as a longtime passion and drive to give back to his community, Shanley says his career in public service has been exciting, rewarding and has provided him with endless opportunities. He is a firm believer in continuing education and finds that higher education is not emphasized enough. He believes that education plays an important role in advancing one’s career in public service, especially for the firefighter paramedic profession. “I practice what I preach,” says Shanley. “It’s so important to stay in school and advance yourself as much as possible, so that you’re able to do even more for the people you serve.” While a vast majority of firefighters in this country are volunteers, Shanley has worked hard to have a career doing something that he says gives his life meaning. “Every day at work is a good day for me,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun when you love what you do.”
Andrew Black has protected and served his country and community for more than 20 years as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In addition to his career with the FBI, Black is also an adjunct professor in Kaplan University’s criminal justice programs. Duties in his long career in public service have ranged from handling fugitives, computer crimes, white collar crimes, and violent crimes, to counterterrorism efforts overseas. Currently, Black supervises the community outreach efforts and media office for the FBI in Los Angeles, California. In this role, he works with a team to develop and build relationships with the various local communities and ethnicities, as well as inform them of the FBI’s mission and capabilities.Black and his department also work with various local schools through the FBI’s community outreach efforts to mentor underprivileged children and expose them to the opportunities that exist for them outside of their own neighborhoods. Described by Black as “the most rewarding aspect” of his work, his impact on the lives of local youth is something that surprises him to this day. “When I spend a week mentoring an elementary school class, they are often a little suspicious as to why an FBI agent is in their classroom, but by the end of the program, they greet me every morning with hugs,” says Black. “I enjoy being able to connect with the kids and provide them with some attention that they’re missing and really need and deserve.”Black’s involvement with the FBI’s Junior Special Agent Program is one of the many daily reminders of his passion for the service he provides to his community and the country. From reuniting mothers with kidnapped children, to hearing a child say they want to be an FBI agent when they grow up, Black is aware of the impact he can make and has made on people’s lives, and describes the feeling as “incredibly gratifying.” The satisfaction he receives from such a worthwhile and influential occupation makes him look forward to each and every day of work. “You have to feel content about the work that you choose, and find a career that interests and motivates you. For me, that’s public service,” says Black. “There is nothing more rewarding in life than feeling good about the work you do.”
Armando Lopez Jr. has been an FDNY firefighter in South Bronx, New York, for more than 11 years. He hails from a family of military personnel and developed his love of public service as a soldier in the U.S. Army, which eventually led him to firefighting. Currently, Lopez is working on his Bachelor of Science in Fire Science where he finds himself applying the techniques he learns in class every day in the field. Although he ultimately hopes to use his degree to advance to the rank of fire marshal, one of the things Lopez loves about being a firefighter is that he’s “always learning.” However, Lopez does advise that in a field such as firefighting, forgoing continuing education could “cost you your life.”Lopez starts each day by ensuring that his personal equipment and the equipment on the fire truck are in the right place and in working order. Although seemingly mundane, these tasks are essential to maintaining the safety of firefighters and victims alike. Most of his day is spent responding to gas odors/leaks, car accidents, rubbish fires, medical calls, building collapses, carbon monoxide alarms, and residential and commercial fires. Over the years Lopez has rescued and assisted hundreds of citizens, but it was on September 11 that he felt most proud to serve his community. When the towers fell on that awful day Lopez was at home on his day off; as soon as he found out about the tragedy he reported to his station. Although he was located in the South Bronx, all FDNY officers were called to Manhattan to help rescue survivors and aid the thousands who had been injured. Lopez will never forget that day. “When I reached Manhattan and saw everyone running around, it was very difficult,” he said. “But I knew I had to be where I was, I knew this is where I belonged.” During one of the darkest moments in American history, heroes like Lopez provided a beacon of hope for those most closely affected by the tragedy.For individuals seeking a position in public service, Lopez offers this advice, “Be accountable. To be accountable speaks a lot for your integrity.” He was taught to be accountable by senior firefighters, who mentored him to remain knowledgeable and responsible. He credits their guidance and his education for his success as a public servant.
Working as a retention case manager at a non-profit organization in Philadelphia for more than five years, Maria Borges is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in human services with an emphasis in family and child welfare at Kaplan University.As a retention case manager, she works to help unemployed clients obtain jobs and monitors their performance as employees for six months. Her key role is to help her clients overcome the barriers that have prevented them from becoming self-sufficient in the past. The greatest reward for this, she says, is “when a client comes to me with a smile, a tear, and just says thank you and wants to give me a hug.”Borges is able to make a significant difference in the lives of those she serves because she takes the time to really listen and assist. One instance where she made a great impact on someone’s life involved a woman who was in danger of losing her home. After working with this woman to help secure her home, Borges was also able to help the woman obtain a job through her own organization where they are now coworkers. To Borges, it is moments like these that mean a lot to her and make her feel as though she has “accomplished something worthy.”For those who may be hesitant about continuing their education, Borges advises that “it’s never too late to get certified in the area you love.” Taking her own advice, Borges is able to use what she’s learned as a student at Kaplan University to her benefit when working with families every day. To potential public servants, she offers more words of wisdom. “If there was ever a time that you felt helpless or that you were just a statistic, this field changes all of that.” For Maria Borges, working in public service has given her the opportunity to have a direct impact on those in need. No longer is she an innocent bystander—she is an agent of change.
Educating kids and empowering others to improve their lives, especially for the sake of their families, has always been a passion for Arnez Cooper. She is responsible for the case management of 36 families through site visits, developing and overseeing parenting groups, providing ongoing support planning, and helping with everyday needs such as housing and food. Before being promoted to this position, Cooper worked as a preschool teacher at a social services agency. She loved her job since she started more than 25 years ago, and knew that helping the disadvantaged was her calling.However, Cooper felt that she had gone as far as she could in her field without a college degree. She wanted to continue to be challenged and to progress financially, so she decided to enroll at Kaplan University where she graduated suma cum laude. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could earn a degree, and to be a good role model for my son and my preschoolers’ parents,” Cooper said. “If I could do it, I knew I could be an inspiration to others.”After graduating, Cooper felt she had earned the credibility necessary to bridge the gap between education and human services in her social services career and was promoted.* Through her commitment and hard work, she earned her associate’s degree in early childhood education and then went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in human services. Cooper was also inducted into two honor societies: Golden Key International Honor Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Cooper recalls why she chose Kaplan University and her experience here. Before starting her studies again, she had to find the right partner in a university. She remembered her failed attempts taking classes at community colleges. The traditional schools just didn’t fit her busy work schedule and she also felt like she didn’t fit in. She was one of the oldest students, and her classmates didn’t have the knowledge or experience she gained from working in the field. Cooper felt that her classmates didn’t share her motivation to work hard and earn good grades. After doing extensive research, Cooper decided that an online university would be her best option. She needed the flexibility so she could work full time and care for her family. “Kaplan University’s curriculum really stood out,” Cooper said. “The classes seemed really interesting, and were taught by professors working in the field. That was a big deal to me. I also seemed to have a lot in common with the students. It was a family that I wanted to be part of.”When Cooper decided to attend Kaplan University, she was determined to get her degree this time. “I wasn’t there just to take classes. I had a goal, and everyone at Kaplan was there to make sure that I fulfilled that goal. They were a fantastic support network. They were my cheerleaders and coaches, with me all the way, picking me up when I was down, and rooting for my success.” “Also, the professors were very friendly and always seemed to be available. They helped me whenever I had a problem, and always went above and beyond, asking if I needed anything else.”In addition to building relationships with her professors, Cooper spent a lot of time using the Kaplan Online Library. “I could obtain assistance with writing papers in the Library. It’s really extensive and offers numerous places to do research. The other colleges didn’t have anything like it.”As a result, Cooper graduated with honors and earned a promotion from preschool teacher to a social worker focused on helping parents with young children.
Alanna Kimmel is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in psychology and hopes to one day complete her master’s degree in criminal justice at Kaplan University. For more than five years, Kimmel has worked as a rehabilitation technician for the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections. Kimmel works with juvenile offenders to help implement treatment strategies, provide group counseling, and supervise their daily activities. She also plans and leads special recreational and educational activities, charts treatment progress, and helps maintain a secure environment for all offenders. Although her job can be difficult at times, she says, “I feel good knowing that I am helping others learn the [skills] to make life worth living.”Although Kimmel has worked with many juvenile offenders over the years, one particular young lady left a lasting impression on her. The vibrant young girl, Liz, had a turbulent past and found herself in custody after a physical altercation with another juvenile. Kimmel spoke with the girl about her problems, decisions, and broader life goals. While in custody, Kimmel motivated the young girl to complete her high school diploma and pursue a college career. A few months ago, Liz approached Kimmel filled with excitement and said, “Mrs. Kimmel, guess what? I got all my credits to graduate. I can go to college like we talked about and have a real life…I wouldn’t have thought I could do it, but you did, and I did it!” Kimmel was elated that she had made such a huge impact on Liz’s life. “I was so proud of her and I knew she could do it.”Kimmel credits her ability to understand these young offenders to her education at Kaplan University. She acknowledges that “understanding emotional regulation and temperament helps me to be effective in what I do.”While working to mentor young offenders, Kimmel also benefitted from the mentorship of her supervisor Laura Roters. Roters provided Kimmel with a depth of knowledge and advice, and her no-nonsense management style makes her effective and efficient. Kimmel hopes to combine her education and experience to work towards helping victims of crime receive closure and justice. With such an outstanding track record, Kimmel is sure to continue touching lives and helping to improve her community.
LaToya Brownfield has worked as an adult probation officer for the past five years in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in criminology online at Kaplan University. As a probation officer, Brownfield is responsible for monitoring offenders, enforcing court-ordered stipulations, advising offenders of treatment options, and rendering sanctions when offenders fail to comply. She has always wanted to work in criminal justice and was led to this field because, “being able to protect and serve my community was a big interest for me.” Each day presents her with a unique opportunity to help someone reestablish him or herself in society. Her most memorable moments involve helping fathers find programs to assist them with raising their children, and directing mentally-ill offenders to the appropriate programs to help manage their criminal and suicidal thoughts. In the midst of such excitement, Brownfield still values the time that she has to listen to offenders’ problems and offer any available assistance or advice. When asked why she enjoys her job she said, “I enjoy assisting my offenders [to] live a crime-free life. Being able to help one person redirect their criminal thinking and become a law abiding citizen makes me know my job is worth keeping.” Brownfield hopes to couple her experience as a probation officer with her Kaplan University education to “climb the ladder in [her] current position or venture off into a new direction.” Not only will her degree expand her career options, the education she receives each day allows her to “[keep her] skills and knowledge on current issues up to date,” making her more effective in the workplace. Despite the impact that Brownfield has had on so many lives, she encourages those entering the field to remain persistent and not expect immediate results. LaToya Brownfield’s commitment to improving lives and serving her community is an example of the difference that one person can make in this world.
For the past four years, Thornton has served as an educational/teen director at the Oprah Winfrey Boys and Girls Club in Kosciusko, Mississippi. There he is responsible for running a number of programs such as college prep, budgeting, CareerLaunch®, Passport to Manhood, and SMART (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training) Girls. According to Thornton, his degree and pursuit of education helps him “inspire my students to reach for the sky. It represents what hard work can do for you.” Working with teenagers has always suited his personality; he believes that “this is what I need to do in life.”Thornton serves as a role model and father-figure to many of the teens he works with. He is also responsible for helping several young people attend college. While attending a special breakfast for the Boys and Girls Club, the presenter asked the youth if they had any role models and why. To Thornton’s surprise, many of the students stood up and said, “Mr. Thornton, because he works hard, cares about us, and he motivates us to do our best even when we don’t want to do any better.” Moments like these confirm that Thornton has chosen the right career.Working in the field of public service means a lot to Thornton. “You get to give back and help someone else succeed in life,” he says. Although Thornton no longer has a mentor, he serves as a mentor to many young people. To those who wish to mentor young students he advises, “never give up on a student who wants help. Go the extra mile.” Ron Thornton completed his undergraduate degree in legal studies and is currently working on his master’s degree in higher education at Kaplan University. He has made a career out of going the extra mile to help teens achieve their goals. His service to his community has impacted many lives, and with more education he will be able to impact even more lives in the future.
Professor Lacey Martz never thought that case management would be such an integral part of her job as a public defender Martz teaches Juvenile Justice Management and Research Methods in our criminal justice programs and is also a criminal defense attorney for the County of San Diego, a job she’s held for more than a decade. Martz is responsible for defending individuals charged with crimes. Her caseload ranges from simple misdemeanors to homicides. The principles of case management are an integral part of her job and she stresses this in her criminal justice classes. “The notion of punishment in our society is changing. As our prisons continue to be overcrowded, we are moving away from warehousing individuals and beginning to focus on the reasons why an offender is in the system,” she says. “Case management helps ensure that an offender’s sentence meets the needs of the victim and the community, but also addresses the underlying issues that an offender is struggling with.”For example, Martz’s team is moving toward what they term “team-oriented justice.” For low-level offenders, specialized courts deal with mentally ill offenders, homeless offenders and even veterans. These courts are run by teams of prosecutors, probation officers and defense attorneys. They work together to link the client to existing services in the community such as counseling, job training, medical/mental health care and community service. Clients must return to court frequently and their progress is closely monitored by the team. “Often times the crimes that we see are really symptoms of a larger issue,” Martz said. “We use case management skills to turn these interactions with the justice system into opportunities. It is a win-win for all involved. We work to ensure that restitution is made to the victim, the client receives needed services, and the community gains a more productive member.”Martz says that for many, this is the first time that they have had an advocate, a person standing up for them - and with them. For example, many of her clients never learned to read. She sets them up with education and literacy programs, and their life is transformed.“Several times, I have had former clients walk up to me in the street or in a store, thanking me for my help. I almost always have absolutely no idea who they are, until they tell me their name. Then I remember every single detail of their case. I look at them and it is amazing the transformation I see! They are completely different, unrecognizable from before. They are productive members of the community, living normal lives. It’s these people that are able to turn their lives around that inspire me every day.”Martz hopes to inspire her students as well. “The enthusiasm and interest that I see in my students reminds me how lucky I am to work in my field. I even have former students that work in my courthouse. They tell me how thankful they are that they learned the importance of case management – how they were so surprised how much they can help their clients, rather than just put them away.”
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