Considering an online criminal justice degree? Not only does Saint Leo University offer several academic programs on this front at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but you can also be part of a unique online group of fellow students that can help you succeed in your degree program and enhance your career potential.

Presenting…the Online Criminal Justice Association

Saint Leo University proudly offers 12 online associations and clubs geared toward both online students and those taking courses at its Education Centers around the country. One of these groups is the Online Criminal Justice Association.

First launched in the spring of 2013 for undergraduate online criminal justice degree students, it was later expanded to graduate students and students enrolled in programs at Education Centers.

The group meets online on the first and third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. Eastern for at least 30 minutes. The meetings vary in focus and include personal development, professional and educational topics relevant to online criminal justice degree students. Ultimately, the web-based gatherings allow students to network and make connections with each other and leaders in the field outside of a traditional academic environment.

Two criminal justice professors, Drs. Phillip Neely and Angela Manos, help to facilitate the group sessions. Dr. Robert Diemer has also been involved with the group, along with other criminal justice faculty members and outside guests. Students and alumni also have the opportunity to give presentations on a variety of subjects. Plus, certain Saint Leo departments like the library will present on its various services for online students so they know what's available to them and how to access various online resources.

The participants can see each other via video and speak to everyone else who is logged on or use a text chat option. The sessions can also be accessed on mobile devices or through a regular phone call. If a student can't attend a session live, recordings are made available.

Jessica Graves, a student life specialist for Saint Leo's online degree programs, says there are countless perks to being involved.

"The biggest benefit of these online clubs is the convenience of connecting with others," Graves explains. "They can also be good for resume building and networking. When a professor can actually see your face, it can really drive home your strengths, help you with public speaking and potentially help you get a professional reference."

The Online Criminal Justice Association consists of over 130 students. While some students may not be of a specific major with which a club is associated, they are still more than welcome to attend the meetings. After each session ends, students can continue the conversation in a Facebook group or on Lions SHARE.

What Online Criminal Justice Degree Students Say

Tim Robinson, a graduate online criminal justice student who we highlighted in this article, joined this group two years ago as an undergrad when he first came to Saint Leo University.

"I knew that we had online organizations and since my major was criminal justice, this was one I was really excited to check out," he says. "The first meeting I attended, I realized how important this was going to be in my journey. We have faculty who are extremely passionate about their calling to teach and dedicate their time outside of class to help us learn more."

Some of the memorable topics Robinson recalls are search and seizure, rehabilitation programs, crime scene investigations and interviewing children who are victims of crimes.

He adds that improving one's presentation skills is a tremendous benefit to the club.

"The opportunity to present to a live audience can be hard to find in certain online degree programs. Since it is an academic environment, you have to be prepared to answer questions. For me as a grad student, this is essential to my personal development."

In terms of career insight, he has learned a lot hearing from professionals in the field.

"A few months ago, a recruiter from the Orange County Sheriff's Office [in Florida] came on and talked to us about the process of becoming a police officer," he recalls. "This was nice just to give us confidence in taking that step because there is a lot involved in the process and it can be nerve-racking for some."

In his view, working together is what it's all about.

"The main reason more students should be involved in this type of community is collaboration," he says. "You don't have to be a criminal justice scholar to know that the system in place now needs some work, but those who are scholars have to put the work in. The people of our communities and our nation as a whole are counting on us to get the work done. We need to combine our experience, education, specializations and values to work together to develop a plan and execute. All criminal justice students have something of value to contribute, and we all have a lot to learn from each other."

Shane Hughes, a 2018 Saint Leo alumnus who earned a master's in criminal justice with a specialization in behavioral studies, is also a member of the group. Hughes currently works as a major crimes detective for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

"I believe it is important for individuals who are currently involved in the profession to also be involved with those currently working toward their higher education," Hughes says.

Like Robinson, Hughes is also a big fan of how practical and cutting-edge the sessions are.

"This group allows for subject matter experts to interact with students and to really have a meaningful discussion," he says. "I believe this is a very valuable forum for current best practices to be presented and to have new ideas possibly added to them for better long-term results."

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