No more discussion posts to develop. No more papers to write. No more textbooks to read.
Beth Grimes from Auburndale, Fla. has completed Saint Leo’s online criminal justice degree program, specializing in criminalistics – including an invaluable internship with the crime scene unit at the Tampa Police Department.
Like so many online students, Beth says that one of the reasons she decided to pursue a college degree was to be a role model for her family. While many adult learners want to emphasize for their children the importance of education and the qualities of determination and commitment required to achieve a degree, Beth’s motivation was slightly different.
“I chose to go back to school out of necessity,” she says, “but I also wanted to show my girls that even through adversity, you can make something of yourself.”
Moving forward following tragedy
Young and in love, Beth married her high school sweetheart, Donald, the year after she graduated. A Marine Corps reservist, Donald was the breadwinner in the family, working as a truck driver, while Beth, a stay-at-home-mom, took care of their two daughters, Arika and Andrea.
That all changed in December 2008. Driving from Louisiana to West Virginia, Donald hit a bad stretch of road, lost control of his truck and was killed.
“People asked me how I was able to get up in the morning after that,” says Beth. “We had been married for almost 17 years. My response was that I didn’t have a choice. My children didn’t deserve to lose both parents.”
Beth’s sense of urgency was keen. Knowing that she needed an education to be able to establish a career and support her family in the long term, she set her priorities and moved forward.
For Beth, flexibility in pursuing a degree was critical. Being there for all of her girls’ athletic, extracurricular and school activities and maintaining stability in her home so they could continue to succeed academically was of primary importance.
“Most people going to school at my age have to work at the same time,” she says. “They have kids and a mortgage and car payments. Although I was in a bad situation, I was still blessed not to have to do that. But I wanted my family to come first. I decided to study online so that I could have the flexibility to set my own schedule.”
Focusing on criminalistics to help others find answers
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation and the school’s reputation, Beth chose Saint Leo University for her online studies in criminal justice – a field that had always intrigued her.
She started her first online class in July 2009 with plans to take classes every term, but ended up taking several months off to help care for her cancer-stricken father-in-law before he passed away. During the course of her studies, her mother also died.
It was the loss of her husband, however, that led her to specialize in criminalistics.
“After my husband’s accident, we didn’t get any definitive answers as to why it had happened. I felt the need to study crime scene investigation because I want to help others find some sense of closure by getting the answers they might need that I could never get.”
While her intentions were sincere, Beth wanted to be sure that criminalistics was the right field for her. “I wanted to see what it was really like to be sure I could handle the stress and the emotion, as well as the blood and gore,” she says. That’s why she took the initiative, applied and was accepted for a position with the crime scene unit at the Tampa Police Department.
Internship reveals realities of crime scene investigation
Working the majority of her 15-week internship from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., Beth accumulated 330 hours and 9 credits toward her degree. Even more importantly, she gained first-hand experience and knowledge that no amount of research or reading could equal.
“On my first day, we answered a call for a ‘signal 7,’ which is a dead body,” she says. “From there, I experienced all kinds of scenes. Burglaries, suicides, drug overdoses, house fires, gunshot wounds. It’s one thing to watch an episode of CSI on TV; actually seeing it, getting blood on your shoes, and having to use bleach to clean it off is totally different.”
Assisting in whatever way she could and taking copious notes at every scene, Beth observed crime scene techs at work, photographing the scene, dusting for prints, and collecting evidence. Passionate about their work, the techs taught her how to look at evidence from a suspect’s point of view, while detectives shared insight into how they are able to perform their jobs amidst the most heart-breaking circumstances. She observed autopsies, sat in on court cases, witnessed the fingerprint process and met with professionals in every facet of police work, from the medical examiner, to detectives, officers and chemists.
“I wanted to absorb everything because I knew this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was an absolutely amazing experience that I recommend every criminal justice student do if they can.
“You have to push through.”
Beth’s hard work and persistence is paying off. Just weeks following her final class, she interviewed with TPD’s Communications Center and was offered a position as a telecommunicator answering emergency 9-1-1 calls that come in to both the Tampa police and fire departments. It’s a foot in the door – and opportunity to gain the experience – she hopes will move her closer to her ultimate goal.
In addition to settling in to her new job, she’s looking forward to celebrating her milestone achievement by participating in commencement exercises at University Campus in the spring.
“It’s been a long road,” says Beth, “and it took me longer than I expected, but thanks to the encouragement and support from my family, I’ve made it. I’ve had to face a lot of adversity in my adult life, but you learn to just push through.”
What do you think the advantages are of an online criminal justice program?
Image Credits: 1936matt and courtesy Beth Grimes
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