Police Chief at Southwestern Oklahoma State University
What made you decide to go into law enforcement?
I started college as a musical theatre major, hoping to secure a career on Broadway. In my freshman semester, I was introduced to the Miss America competition. I competed as Miss Berkeley County and then Miss Greenville, both South Carolina titles.
During my journey, I was tasked with writing a state representative about domestic violence. I decided I needed to do a little research first to make sure I was well versed in the matter. I found out a girl in my class had a sister who had been murdered in a domestic violence situation. Her story was devastating. I furthered my research by interviewing my local police and university police officers. This led to a friendship that continues today. I became fascinated with their careers. I decided I wanted to become a police officer and 25 years later, here I am.
Why is being involved in your community so important?
I believe community service and involvement is crucial to fulfill local needs. Being involved helps create and strengthen bonds between police and the communities they represent. It is important to give back to a society you love.
If one always expects to receive something and never returns the favor, it exhausts resources. But volunteering and lending a helping hand strengthens organizations. My motto has been #StraightenEachOthersCrown. We have to look out for one another and help each other.
What did the road to becoming police chief look like?
I worked in retail for a few years in college, then became a police officer once I was old enough. It is in my blood. I started off as a patrol officer in a large city. During my journey to becoming a chief, I have been a school resource officer, a bike patrol officer, a firearms instructor, a driving instructor, a member of the Bloodhound and mantracking teams, a community liaison officer and many things in between.
Why is earning a J.D. the next step in your career?
I am a person that does not sit still well. I have competed in multiple Ironman triathlons (swim 2.4 miles in open water, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles), and I run a triathlon coaching business called Bulletproof Triathlon. I just like to stay busy. I have considered law school all my life and never felt the timing was right. I think earning a J.D. will make me a better police chief and enable me to serve my community better.
What do you want to do once you graduate and pass the bar?
The bar seems daunting! I see a major gap when it comes to legal representation of officers accused of committing crimes in the line of duty. While I will never condone illegal actions committed by anyone, I also recognize the needed balance for a fair trial for first responders.
Are law degrees common in your line of work? Why might others in your field want to earn a J.D.?
J.D. degrees are not common for officers. I have worked for large departments that have an attorney on staff, and they send that attorney through a police academy to be certified. I guess I am just doing this backwards! I recommend a J.D. for those in this line of work because we need to be knowledgeable in handling the day-to-day legal aspects of the job.
What drew you to University of Dayton?
I did not start with any connections in Ohio, but I know I have made some lifelong friends there. I was drawn to the University of Dayton School of Law (UDSL) because of its outstanding reputation. The Online Hybrid J.D. program is very convenient for my schedule. I am very committed to my Christian faith, and the fact that the University of Dayton is a Christian school made my heart happy.
How do you balance school, work, and your personal life?
A day in my life is busy. My husband gets up by 3 a.m. — sometimes earlier — to go to work. My energetic Puerto Rican mother lives with me and wakes up very early to clean and work out. If I am training for a race, I do that before I have to wake up my kids (four handsome boys!) for school.
In the morning I prepare dinner, take the kids to school and go to work. I come home, change clothes, grab a plate of food and Zoom into class. After class, I visit with my family and then head back to study until my eyelids flutter closed.
Balancing time can be difficult, and I have not mastered it yet. Between semesters, I try to freezer prep dump-and-go, pressure cooker meals for days I have class. I try to clean my house every few study breaks. The Pomodoro study method enables you to take frequent breaks, and you would be amazed what you can accomplish in a few minutes (like cleaning windows).
My husband is a huge help in my life. The whole family pitches in, but he is amazing.
What are some standout moments from your time in the program?
I like the fact that I can watch the Zoom recordings of class. I can watch it while cooking, lying in bed, brushing my teeth or waiting in the lobby of a doctor’s appointment. I am thankful for classmates that have picked me up when I am struggling with a topic. I am thankful for a great study group. The bonds I have formed through the program are amazing, and I cannot wait to meet my friends in person.
Tell us about your classmates. Have you been able to learn from their experiences in other fields?
I just love my classmates. We have wonderful people from a variety of backgrounds, and the environment feels so inclusive. All of that variety puts everything in perspective and makes me realize all the different ways we will apply law in the field.
I have a small study group that I adore. The two classmates in my group have seen me stumble, they have made me laugh, they have made me welcomed, they have picked me up and brushed me off, and they have made me feel loved. We are the Three Amigos!
Why did you select the online format vs. attending a program in person?
I selected the hybrid format because it provides the flexibility I need to balance school with my life. When I first mentioned a hybrid program, I came across some skeptics. However, my experiences proves that the Online Hybrid J.D. program doesn’t just get the job done — it crushes its competition.
Now that the world has been exposed to distance learning over the last year, more people are realizing how beneficial this program truly is. Way to be trendsetters, UDSL!
What recommendations or advice do you have for prospective students?
When you’re deciding whether in-person or hybrid is for you, I recommend making a list. I considered commute time, vehicle maintenance, travels costs and many other factors. I ultimately knew my family and job would need me more than the extra commuting time would.
My best advice:
- Spend the money and upgrade your study space. Buy the extra monitor, the comfy chair and the really good headphones.
- Visit your optometrist. Reading all those cases exhausts your eyes.
- Get comfy pajamas for when you crawl into bed at night, and a good pillow to support your neck after looking down at your study desk for so many hours.
- Buy a pressure cooker or slow cooker, plan meals in advance and consider time saving strategies, like grocery pick-up.
- Have a sit-down talk with family and friends about your workload and about how to fairly divide chores during the semester — and then make it up to them during semester breaks.
- Plan mini-vacations during every semester break. Call your best friend when you need to vent. Be extra sweet to your significant other. Stock up on frozen pizza, and do not be shocked when the Freshman 15 hits again.