If you like understanding how the law intersects with real life, you could foster that interest into a career as a law enforcement or corrections officer or any of the many personnel in the Criminal Justice system.
After being a prosecuting attorney for 11 years, I understand the importance of preparing quality Criminal Justice professionals who will approach their work ethically and with passion, who respect all individuals, and who understand the system and will do great work within it.
Let me tell you about WSU’s Criminal Justice program.
- We offer two tracks within Criminal Justice: Corrections and Law Enforcement.
- The Criminal Justice program is a Professional Peace Officer Education Program certified by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), and our students regularly score high on the exam to become licensed Peace Officers.
- Inside the classroom, you’ll get experience practicing forensic interviewing and crime scene investigating, all while working with technology and your peers.
- You’ll also get plenty of hands-on opportunities outside the classroom through internship and community outreach.
Michelle Keller, J.D.
We are at a time of great hope for great change within the Criminal Justice system, and it’s a privilege to work with students who will soon be part of that change.
Why I’m Passionate about This Field
I was always drawn to teaching, even before I went to law school. I worked as a prosecuting attorney for about 11 years and in different states—from Michigan and Colorado to Missouri and Wisconsin—and no matter where I worked, a big part of my job was education. I regularly spoke with law enforcement and probation officers, I was heavily involved in on-going law enforcement trainings, and I acted as the liaison between prosecutor’s offices and police departments.
Becoming a professor of Criminal Justice was a natural extension of this: I wanted to be part of the people who are going to be working in the field. Becoming a professor seemed like a great way to make an impact because one way or another, Criminal Justice is involved in our everyday lives.
The way a Criminal Justice system operates has an immense impact on a community and society. We are at a time of great hope for great change within the Criminal Justice system, and it’s a privilege to work with students who will soon be part of that change.
Although Criminal Justice is a difficult field, it’s never going to improve until we have good people who choose to improve it. And it’s becoming apparent that there’s a need for greater diversity of perspectives in Criminal Justice professionals. Differing perspectives is crucial for real, sustainable change.
After teaching Criminal Justice at WSU for six years now, I believe students should understand that they have a real opportunity to be part of the way that the Criminal Justice system operates in the future and how that system interacts with communities.
Now is the perfect time to enter this field.
Let me tell you more about our Criminal Justice program.
What We Offer at WSU
All Criminal Justice students gain foundational knowledge of the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice systems, Criminology, and Criminal Law and Procedure. Our students then take their knowledge to the next level through hands-on learning opportunities in our advanced campus spaces.
The Etta Wheeler Mock House, for example, allows students to act as police investigators and practice being the first to arrive at a crime scene. The Etta Wheeler Mock House is a two-bedroom apartment with bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living room, and laundry room. The apartment can be adapted with props to make the space appear neat and cozy, chaotic and messy, or anything in between.
We also have four private Forensic Interview Rooms set up for one-on-one interviewing. Here, students practice eliciting good information from others, asking questions that aren’t suggestive and protect the accuracy of information, having proper interactions with victims and witnesses who have suffered through traumatic events, and establishing rapport and creating a level of trust and comfort when talking to others. These rooms are fully equipped with everything needed for a child forensic interview, including anatomical diagrams and dolls.
The Etta Wheeler Mock House and Forensic Interview Rooms are wired for video and audio recording. Both spaces also offer remote viewing rooms that allow for simultaneous viewing of exercises. That way, instructors, peers, and students themselves can review their performance and skill later on.
Whereas students regularly visit the Forensic Interview Rooms to ensure they’re comfortable in those spaces, students visit the Etta Wheeler Mock House less frequently to ensure they don’t get too comfortable with the space—this is important because no two crime scenes are alike, so this prepares them for that fact.
In addition to these advanced spaces, our students also practice testifying in our on-campus courtroom. The coolest part: they get to be cross-examined by a real-life and experienced guest attorney!
What You’ll Do
Getting to know and experience a community is so important for those entering into service professions.
Upon graduation, our students leave WSU prepared to speak with and serve child victims in ways that Criminal Justice graduates from other institutions are not. We incorporate opportunities into our curriculum for students to talk to pre-school and elementary schoolers one-on-one and work on creating rapport with them to discuss both positive and negative events.
These visits to local schools and daycare centers help enhance students’ communication and forensic interviewing skills. Criminal Justice students also gain experience with face drawings and family circles with the help of these children from the community.
We’ve taken our students to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum for art and culture education, and we’ve even taken them out on the Mississippi River on the Cal Fremling to practice their networking with WSU professors and other professionals while enjoying this beautiful area.
On top of all this, students learn about and practice writing offender risks/needs assessments, which are often considered best practice for determining case outcomes in corrections settings. For example, a detention risk assessment may be used to decide whether a juvenile should stay in detention or can return home while their case is pending. It’s important for students to learn how to properly complete these assessments because of their prominence in the field of Criminal Justice.
We also host an annual Criminal Justice Internship and Job Fair that connects Criminal Justice agencies with our students. It’s a great opportunity for networking with alumni and professionals in the field.
Experiences You’ll Get
I love watching students figure out hard things, like understanding a United States Supreme Court case decision or learning how to read criminal statutes. But probably the best part of my job is supervising students through their internship experience—especially watching them learn from what they get to see and do in the field.
Criminal Justice students are required to complete a 480-hour internship in the field. Corrections majors typically do this during their final semester, and Law Enforcement majors typically do this the summer between their junior and senior years at WSU.
Depending on a student’s goals for after graduation, you could find yourself attending police ride-alongs and criminal investigations and working with prosecuting attorneys, dispatch, or medical examiners. Or you could find yourself having your own probation clients, case planning, and conducting interviews and offender meetings.
Previous Law Enforcement students have interned at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and police and sheriff’s departments all over—including placements like Winona and St. Paul, Minnesota; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Naperville, Illinois; and even Clearwater, Florida.
In the past, Corrections students have interned at local juvenile and adult probation and parole offices; the Advocacy Center of Winona; prisons in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota; and even the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC).
Or, in Akpos Eyafe’s case, an organization focused on giving back to the community, especially to individuals with underrepresented voices.
Student Shoutout: Akpos Eyafe
The Criminal Justice program has prepared me very well for my future career. The faculty keep us well-informed about what’s going on in the world around us and what we need to do within the program to be successful.
I just got offered an internship opportunity with Urban Scholars. My position at this internship will include community outreach with marginalized populations.
I want to complete my internship here because I believe community outreach and development is critical to improving the relationship between law enforcement and the public.
Dr. Keller has always been kind to me within and outside of the classroom, and she’s actually my academic advisor. I admire the way Dr. Keller carries herself: her demeanor demands respect.
I have a lot of respect for her not only as an authority figure in my life, but also as another woman in a male-dominated field.
Our alumni go on to do great things in the field of Criminal Justice, like Shawn Kudron, Chief of Police for the La Crosse Police Department:
Alumni Shoutout: Shawn Kudron
As the Chief of Police, no two days are alike. I think of new ways to engage our community, work with staff who investigate crime, recruit new officers to our department, and consistently review policy and procedures to ensure our department is following best practices in the policing profession.
One of the accomplishments that I am proud of is our Transparency in Policing initiative. The La Crosse Police Department is committed to building and strengthening relationships with the community we serve, and our Transparency initiative is an effort to share information with our community to build trust and develop understanding.
My Criminal Justice degree at WSU created the foundation for future learning and a career of service. The program ultimately taught me to think critically and to keep an open mind when problem solving. I look back fondly on my time at WSU, especially my internship with the United States Marshals Service in Minneapolis.
Although Dr. Keller wasn’t at WSU during my time there, I worked with her when she was a prosecutor in La Crosse. Dr. Keller is a very conscientious Criminal Justice professional, and I have learned a lot from her during my Law Enforcement career.
The Professor Pop-Up blog series explores WSU’s academic programs through the eyes of talented professors, ambitious current students, and thriving alumni. Read more stories from the Professor Pop-Up series.