Saint Leo University’s Doctor of Criminal Justice degree program is one of the few such doctorates in the country with a strong, practitioner-based focus with tracks in supervising in law enforcement and teaching in an academic setting. The program has enrolled a wide array of students from all backgrounds. One current student who began the coursework in this terminal degree program in August of 2020 is Aaron Eastwood.

A native of Syracuse, NY, the 35-year-old graduated from Cicero-North Syracuse High School. He currently works in law enforcement and remains a Marine Corps reservist who also served on active duty. He and his wife live in the middle of the Empire State with their yellow lab, Dixie [named after Dixie Kong from the Donkey Kong video game series].

We recently caught up with Eastwood to learn more about his background, selecting Saint Leo University for a doctoral program, and how the Doctor of Criminal Justice curriculum has positively impacted his criminal justice career.

Q: What inspired you to commission in the Marine Corps?

A: I went on active duty in 2008. The job market for college graduates was not very good back then. The Marine Corps was offering the GI Bill® and even paying off student loans. I was lucky enough to have my undergraduate degree fully paid for, and even my master’s and doctoral degrees have been subsidized.

Q: While on active duty in the Marine Corps, what was your rank and job title?

A: I am a major and first worked as a logistics officer. I went back to school for a resident course and became an expeditionary logistics instructor.

Q: Are there any specific highlights from your military career you would like to mention?

A: I was deployed for two tours of duty in Afghanistan. I worked as a NATO advisor, training Afghan police and border patrol.

Q: Where did you go to college prior to enrolling in the Doctor of Criminal Justice degree program at Saint Leo?

A: I earned my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from SUNY Potsdam in 2008. Several years later, I attended Norwich University for a Master of Public Administration (MPA), a degree program I completed in 2020.

Q: How did you first learn about Saint Leo University?

A: Over 15 years ago when I was in high school, I actually got something in the mail from Saint Leo. I remember thinking how gorgeous the campus looked in the photos. A classmate in my SAT prep class ended up going there as well.

Q: What inspired you to go on for a doctoral degree?

A: I was finishing up my master’s degree program and still had eligibility left on my GI Bill®. I was trying to figure out if I wanted to do another master’s or a doctorate. I came across four doctoral programs, which included the Doctor of Criminal Justice at Saint Leo University. I really liked what I read about it.

Q: How did you ultimately decide on Saint Leo’s Doctor of Criminal Justice program?

A: I had a good conversation with Christine Dzikonski, my enrollment counselor at the time. She had worked in law enforcement for many years. I cross-referenced the for-profit and nonprofit schools and looked at when each opened. I also talked to my aunt who teaches for a major university. We talked about all of my options, and she recommended I choose Saint Leo. I decided on the Homeland Security track within the DCJ program.

Q: How supportive have you found everyone in this doctoral program to be?

A: I’m in a group text with my classmates, and this has been a good way to communicate and support each other. The professors have also been very supportive and understanding of everyone who is at a different point in their lives and careers.

Q: Speaking of your professors, have any specific ones stood out to you?

A: Dr. [Todd] Isaacson has been very good. He is from the Buffalo, NY area and did many years in law enforcement, so he recognizes some of the struggles I have had in my career.

Dr. [Delmar] Wright is ‘the man’ and has been an awesome professor. I will also say that Dr. [Phillip] Neely is tough but also a very fair grader.

Dr. [Eloy] Nunez has told us that we don’t have to agree with him but that we should always back up our opinions with facts and research.

Q: What do the Saint Leo University core values mean to you, especially in your career field?

A: I think all six of these core values are important for Saint Leo students and alumni who are working out in the world. All of them should already be integrated into the criminal justice field because of the nature of modern policing.

Q: Tell us about your involvement in Saint Leo’s chapter of the Student Veterans of America (SVA).

A: I served as vice president of the chapter this past year. We have held some virtual events but are looking to find more ways to engage all of our veteran students, something we have found challenging at times since we are not all based on one campus.

Earlier this year, Dr. Larry Braue came on board as the new director of the Office of Military Affairs and Services. As our SVA chapter advisor, we are looking forward to some of his new ideas for the group.

Q: What is your current role in law enforcement?

A: I work for the New York State Police. This is one of the 10 largest police departments in the country. I’m a sergeant, so I supervise operations and can also patrol at my discretion and as time permits. I supervise a station with about 17 personnel. I’m responsible for three counties and approximately 4,500 square miles.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your criminal justice career?

A: I look at it as a very unconventional line of work. It allows you to employ critical thinking, and every day is a big problem-solving episode. It’s all about finding solutions to these problems that are situationally appropriate. That aspect of it makes it pretty engaging.

Q: How has the DCJ program specifically benefited you in your career?

A: As I go through the classes in my Doctor of Criminal Justice program, I notice things in my work that I didn’t previously notice. I’m seeing more and more topics I’m studying pop up in what I do each day. This has given me a different perspective on things and has allowed me to come up with several relevant topics to write about in my research papers.

Q: What are your future goals?

A: Personally, my wife and I could see ourselves moving out of New York down the road.

In the Marine Corps reserves, my goal is to start working with a new unit and be promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Aaron Eastwood and is used with permission.

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at​gibill.