After 20 Years, Veteran Officer Earns Criminal Justice Degree Online
Decorated police officer and 2013 graduate of Saint Leo’s online criminal justice program finds pride in his work, family, education, and service to his country.
By Mark Puskarich
Michael Boyer is a proud man.
He’ll let you know that he’s proud to be a veteran of two branches of our nation’s military. He’s proud to be married to his wife and to be a father and a grandfather. He’s proud to serve as a law enforcement officer and to help those who cannot help themselves.
He’s also very proud to be a Saint Leo University graduate.
But Michael’s pride isn’t boastful or self-righteous. It’s more along the lines of humble and appreciative.
That’s because Michael’s life to date has been far from easy: two major operations on his skull for large bone tumors by the age of 23; having to work two jobs to barely make ends meet; losing an executive-level job more than likely because of his lack of education; and putting college on hold for a second time because other priorities won out.
Humbled by these experiences and struggles, Michael is well qualified for his role today, as a police officer in California’s Modesto Police Department.
A degree two decades in the making.
It took Michael 20 years to earn his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Being from a big family with tight finances, Michael enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at 17, right after high school. After his tour, he returned home, found a job, and earned his associate’s degree in art.
Michael planned to continue his education, but was sidelined by osteoma tumor operations. Marriage, raising a family, and work commitments then consumed his busy life.
The tide changed when an employer who he worked for part time offered him a more promising (and higher paying ) full-time job. He enjoyed a successful career in that company for 9 years (part time and full time), ultimately reaching consideration for a vice president position.
During the interview process for that role, however, the company leadership asked him about his college education. When Michael revealed he had an associate’s degree, he was disqualified from the running.
Disappointed but motivated, Michael made the decision to try once again to earn his bachelor’s degree.
Returning to serving his country.
This was in the summer of 2001. After September 11, Michael felt it was his duty to re-enlist as a reservist in the Army National Guard.
Shortly after making this decision, Michael was let go from his corporate job for reasons he’s unaware. (He could speculate: the company was moving its operations to North Carolina, he didn’t have his bachelor’s degree, and he was re-enlisting as a reservist.)
The same day he was shown the door, an industry magazine published an article featuring him as one of the “Top 40 Executives Under Age 40.”
Bittersweet? Yes, but Michael was at a crossroads now and knew he had some decisions to make.
An opportunity to restart his education with online learning.
Prior to being laid off, Michael had heard of Saint Leo from his Army unit’s education advisor and was excited to find out about the university’s new online distance learning program. Michael enrolled and expected to begin classes in spring 2002. However, because of the layoff and the possibility of deployment, he dropped his classes, but hoped to return to earn his degree at a later date.
In 2002, with new motivation and direction, Michael served as a military intelligence analyst and earned three commendation medals that year. The following year, he was hired at the Modesto Police Department, and four years later, in 2007, Michael leveraged the Select-Reserve G.I. Bill and re-enrolled with Saint Leo to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Countless long nights, early mornings, and multiple sacrifices later, Michael graduated in December 2012 (Magna Cum Laude).
“My degree will be helpful in the promotion process with my agency. Coupled with my experience, it will also allow me to teach criminal justice at the community college and technical college level,” said Michael. “I also plan to continue my education at Saint Leo, pursuing a masters of business administration degree starting this fall.”
Living out Saint Leo’s core values.
In addition to his degree, Michael has also gained an appreciation for Saint Leo’s core values during his years as a student, and strives to assimilate them into his everyday life.
One value he has placed particular, personal emphasis on is community. He has worked with his police department to create a youth mentoring program, and has personally mentored more than 500 at-risk children over the past seven years. Providing guidance toward academic success and positive life goals for these children, Michael says is his way of putting Saint Leo’s community core value into practice.
In 2011, Michael was recognized as Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, and in 2012 he was awarded his department’s Distinguished Service Medal – two honors you bet he’s very proud of.
Mark Puskarich is no stranger to writing it, reading it, editing it, and writing it again. A former high school and college yearbook editor, Mark has suffered gladly in corporate and non-profit marketing roles since 2002. At Saint Leo, Mark is responsible for promoting the university’s online graduate and undergraduate programs. In his spare time, Mark volunteers with Community Tampa Bay, Equality Florida, and The Trevor Project – small organizations making a big impact. Reach him at 813-226-4991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.