Perspectives on Criminal Justice: The Degree and Career Faculty Spotlight on Stephanie Huddle, MFS, Criminal Justice instructor for Peru State College Online
Meet Stephanie Huddle, criminology and victimology instructor for the criminal justice program at Peru State College Online. Learn about Stephanie’s expansive, 17+ year career path and her views on the exciting possibilities with a criminal justice bachelor’s degree.
Q: Before becoming an instructor, what career path did you take in criminal justice?
I had an extremely varied criminal justice career and was able to do a lot of different things because of so many opportunities in the field.
After earning my bachelor’s in criminal justice, with a minor in psychology, I started out as a unit case worker with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services supervising inmates in a housing unit. I became interested very early in the sex offender aspect of criminal justice and went on to a different corrections facility as a case worker for inmates who were in in-patient sex offender treatment and in-patient mental health treatment programs.
“Social justice is really important to me, and it blends into my experience in the criminal justice field.”
I moved on to do emergency preparedness work, which is where I really discovered how much I loved to teach because of all the teaching and training we did. And then I was promoted to a disciplinary hearing officer at Nebraska state penitentiary, and three years later was promoted again into the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) program. This is where I oversaw and managed the sexual assault prevention and response program, which aligned well with my interest in sex crimes.
Throughout 11 of my 13 years in corrections, I was involved in victim services, another passion of mine, where I would talk to and assist staff who were assaulted in the line of duty.
When I went to work for the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, I did systems advocacy as their public policy coordinator. I worked with senators and testified at legislative hearings to try to get bills passed – anything pertaining to sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking. Later, I did investigations into allegations of discrimination for the state Equal Opportunity Commission.
So, social justice is really important to me, and it blends into my experience in the criminal justice field.
Q: What was your main driver for working in criminal justice?
When I went to college, my plan was to focus on psychology and figure out what makes people tick. But when I entered the criminal justice program, I figured out that I loved that area even more than psychology, although the two really go hand in hand. That kicked off my interest in what drives the offender to do what they do. I’m also so passionate about victim services. I feel lucky that I have gotten to be involved in both interests, the full circle of both offenders and victims.
Q: Do many students dual major in criminal justice and psychology? A lot of students do a dual major or take classes in a specific area. It really depends on what you want to do. Students interested in law school take political science classes. If they’re interested in the business side, they’ll take HR and business classes. And if a student is interested in probation and parole, I encourage taking some psychology classes.
Q: Is a master’s degree required for advancement? There are a lot of benefits to having your master’s degree, but in terms of getting into your field of interest and working up the ladder, a master’s isn’t necessary. It can be beneficial and sometimes required in specific areas like counseling, but the opportunities are endless with a bachelor’s degree.
“There are some incredible opportunities right now to make lasting, positive, impactful changes. Our students have the opportunity to be part of that change and help guide the future of criminal justice. It’s an exciting opportunity that will take a lot of really hard work. But the payoff is going to be worth it.”
Q: What is your online classroom like? Whether it’s on campus or online, we really work hard to make sure our students come first. That’s where our focus is. We all have deep professional experience in the field, which I feel is essential for criminal justice. As a student you will associate and speak with faculty who have actually done the work, which is really valuable.
Because the program is online, we have students in criminal justice from all over the country. It’s interesting to see the different perspectives of people with so many varied experiences. I’m impressed by the respect the students give one another, even when their opinions are very different about some of the more difficult topics.
Q: What’s your advice for entering the field? Take advantage of internships to get some practical experience in the field. And keep an eye on job postings, like probation officer trainees, where no prior experience is required, just your degree.
Whether you want to go into probation or parole or law enforcement, corrections is a great place to start because you’re working directly with offenders. It’s really good experience, and you’re not limited to being an officer in custody or in casework.
When it comes to criminal justice, it’s really easy to think about law enforcement and working in the prison system, maybe going to law school, which is great. But there’s so much you can do with a criminal justice degree. We’ve had students who have interned at the Child Advocacy Center. So, they’d be conducting forensic interviews with kids who have been abused or witnessed abuse. You can go into Child Protective Services. Or you can do investigations at the Equal Opportunity Commission, like I did. You really can pick and choose what the best fit is for you.
Q: What is your perspective about today’s landscape in criminal justice? It’s always changing. It’s not a static field. There’s always more to learn and do. The past year, we have seen a lot of unrest and a big divide, particularly with law enforcement. We talk to our students about those things and a lot of other really hard topics. We want to introduce those difficult issues in a safe environment so students will be more prepared in the field.
There are some incredible opportunities right now to make lasting, positive, impactful changes. Our students have the opportunity to be part of that change and help guide the future of criminal justice. It’s an exciting opportunity that will take a lot of really hard work. But the payoff is going to be worth it.
Q: What advice would you offer students new to online learning? Sometimes people think learning online will be easy, and that’s not necessarily the case. It’s a lot of time management and being mindful to assignments and deadlines. When you’re taking a full term, plus maybe working a full-time job, it’s important to plan for the time to do the work. Have a dedicated time to devote to the class and your studies.
My biggest piece of advice is to reach out to your instructors. Email them, have a zoom meeting, do phone calls – just make an effort to get to know them. And don’t be afraid to ask professors questions. Making the effort will provide you a classroom feel even in an online environment.
Q: Any parting thoughts? For prospective students, we’d love to have you at Peru State. Our criminal justice program is really very good and we do some amazing things.
I feel strongly that the faculty’s professional field experience is so beneficial. Academia and research is beneficial, too, of course. But particularly with criminal justice, it’s so helpful to have instructors that have worked with law enforcement and corrections. For instance, one of our full-time faculty did crime scene investigation for 10 years. That field experience really adds so much to the program.
How committed we are to our students, and how we really put them first – I feel like those are the things that really set us apart and can provide a really good educational experience for someone.
Interested in earning your criminal justice degree online? With 20 years of online expertise to our credit and ranked a Best ROI online college, we’d love to help you move forward. Check out our three bachelor’s degree specialties in criminal justice (Administration, Counseling and Legal Studies) by visiting us at online.peru.edu.