After three decades of public service, Alan Flora retired on February 1, 2021 from a highly successful career working in law enforcement. But the master's-level online criminal justice degree student at Saint Leo University has plenty more to give to the community, just in a different way.
The 51-year-old resides in Wilkesboro, NC with his wife, Carol, and their two sons, Benjamin and Elijah.
Higher Education Pursuits
Flora graduated first in his class from the Basic Law Enforcement Training program at Wilkes Community College in 1991. While working as a deputy sheriff, he took night classes to earn a bachelor's degree in social science with a human services concentration from Gardner-Webb University in 1994.
Discovering Saint Leo's Online Criminal Justice Degree Program
According to Flora, he had always envisioned himself earning a graduate degree someday.
"Getting a master's degree was definitely a bucket-list item for me," Flora explains. "Some of my close friends and coworkers at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation were Saint Leo students, and they recommended the online criminal justice degree program and said to give it a chance."
He also wanted to add an advanced degree to his resume that would be academically on par with his lengthy professional career in law enforcement.
"After a while, I felt like my bachelor's-level degree I had earned didn't quite match my experience in the field," he says. "I also want to teach at the college level, so I knew I needed to get the master's at some point."
Top-Notch First Impressions
In January of 2020, he decided to take the plunge and pursue his graduate studies. He enrolled in the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree program at Saint Leo University.
"My advisor, Bianli Abreu, was the first person I spoke to at Saint Leo," he recalls. "She walked me thru the entire application process, got me registered for my classes, and did all of this very quickly and efficiently. She has been with me every step of the way and has been an absolute joy to work with. She made what first seemed like such a daunting and complicated process so easy."
His first class in the graduate criminal justice degree program – an ethics course – was with Dr. Peter Wubbenhorst.
"I was very impressed with Dr. Wubbenhorst and knew that this program was for me," he says.
Fittingly, the class actually began on his 50th birthday.
"I expected to be the oldest student in the class," he recalls. "While there were a few 20-somethings, there was also a man in his 80s. The diversity of that class was my favorite part. I learned so much from the various perspectives of my classmates."
Faculty of Note in This Online Criminal Justice Degree Program
In addition to Dr. Wubbenhorst, Flora has also enjoyed taking classes with Drs. Jorey Krawczyn, Joseph Cillo, and Willie "Butch" Newkirk.
"I am highly impressed with the caliber of instructors at Saint Leo," he says. "At my age and with my background, I want to be sure that the instructors I am learning from know as much or more about a topic as I do. These instructors are phenomenal, and their levels of experience exceed mine by many years in some cases. I am truly amazed at their resumes."
Balancing Work, Family, and a Graduate Degree Program
According to Flora, there have been challenges in trying to juggle all of his priorities. Fortunately, he has learned how to adapt.
"It has been a challenge, especially when I was still working and had 50-hour workweeks," he admits. "I've had a great deal of support from my family. Almost every Saturday in 2020, I was reading for my classes and writing papers. My wife and sons have been extremely patient because they understand I am doing this for them as much as for me. A higher degree will make me more marketable and increase my income potential in my next career."
He says that any graduate student must work diligently to be successful.
"There is a level of commitment that you must put forth toward your coursework. It can seem much more daunting in the beginning like it did for me. If you do a little bit each day and really spend the time necessary on your assignments, it is doable."
Acknowledging Saint Leo University's Core Values
For Flora, personal development, integrity, and respect are the three Saint Leo University core values that have resonated with him most.
"With personal development, I think it's important to never stop learning," he says. "I'm at the end of my career in law enforcement, and I didn't need to get this graduate degree for a promotion in that field. But I felt like I still had room to grow and wanted to contribute my knowledge and experience to young people through teaching. In terms of integrity, I have always handled my work with the utmost integrity and honesty. I decided early in my career to conduct myself as if I were on camera. That way, I would never have to worry if someone released a video. As for respect, one only has to look at what's going on in the world today to realize that greater respect for each other could solve a lot of problems."
A Rewarding – and Award-Winning – Criminal Justice Career in Law Enforcement
In January of 1992, Flora took his oath as a Wilkes County, NC Sheriff's Office deputy where he worked for six years, rising to become a sergeant. While there, he co-wrote a grant to fund the first school resource officers in the county.
He later joined the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation as a resident agent who helped smaller agencies investigate major crimes and as a fire and arson investigator. In 2007, he was promoted to the Computer Crimes Unit with the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. He helped lead a statewide effort to protect children as the commander of the North Carolina ICAC Task Force and eventually went on to roles with regional, national, and even international outreach.
Upon his retirement, Flora received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, the highest award for state service granted by the governor of North Carolina.
He reflects on his career by recalling what made it so rewarding for him.
"So many people associate law enforcement with arresting or 'getting' people. But whether my suspects got a five-year or 50-year sentence, the most important part to me was being a voice for victims and their families. To me, law enforcement has always been about helping people."
He recalls a few murder cases in which he helped prove the innocence of the suspects. He also got to serve on a jury once – something fairly uncommon for law enforcement officers. The defense attorney in that case said that he trusted Flora to be unbiased and to make his decisions based on the evidence, or the lack thereof.
"Looking back, these are the cases I'm most proud of in my career. I always wanted to do the right thing and make sure everyone with whom I interacted was treated fairly. That goes back to the core value of integrity that we stress at Saint Leo University."
Teaching Criminal Justice at the College Level
After so many years working in law enforcement, he is ready for a new chapter in teaching. His goal is to teach criminal justice at the undergraduate level.
"There are so many avenues you can take in law enforcement," he says. "I've been lucky enough to have had a good sampling of exposure to many different specialties. I really like the idea of working with younger students to help them figure out what they want to pursue. For example, some people are cut out to go into drug investigation work, but others might be better suited for criminal investigations."
He says he is also willing to teach online should such an opportunity present itself.
Giving Back via Community Service
For 14 years, Flora has served as an assistant scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts and currently helps lead the troop in which his two sons are involved.
"I was an Eagle Scout myself," he explains. "My scout leaders helped me grow into who I am today. Giving back to the program is how I pay that forward. I enjoy helping young people grow by setting goals and then developing a path to achieve them."