Capt. Rob Fanelli has seen a lot in his 18-year law enforcement career. While he already has a wealth of experience under his belt, he is thrilled to continue to apply what he learned in his Saint Leo University MBA program to his work each day.

The 41-year-old was born in New York but spent much of his childhood growing up in Orlando, FL. He now resides in Gainesville, FL with his wife, four children, six cats, four dogs, and a bunny.

Educational Pursuits

Fanelli started his college career at Valencia Community College (now Valencia College) where he attained an Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis on sociology, psychology, and criminology in 2000. He then transferred to the University of Florida where he earned a BA in criminology in 2003.

"When I was younger, I always wanted to be a police officer," Fanelli recalls. "I wanted to do something I thought could contribute to society and make a difference in the community. The investigative side of it and the idea of justice both really intrigued me. That's why I thought criminology would be a good degree for me."

Ironically, his original major was architecture. After doing an internship for an architectural firm, however, he realized a traditional desk job just wasn't his calling but was glad he gave it a try.

Deciding to Pursue Graduate Studies

It was a number of years into his working life in law enforcement when he considered the idea of pursuing a graduate degree.

"After 13 years on the job, I was noticing that people around me were getting advanced degrees," he confides. "I had really enjoyed the college experience in my bachelor's program, and I decided I wanted to get another degree to help me advance in my career. At the time, I was a sergeant looking for a promotion to lieutenant."

He explains why his attention turned to MBA degree programs.

"I wanted to diversify and didn't want another criminal justice degree. Over time, I had recognized how a police department is also a business, so I thought getting a business degree might be a good bet. Like any private business, we are limited by our resources and have to find ways to use them efficiently. I like to say that as a company has stockholders, we have taxpayers, and we have to use every tax dollar appropriately. Plus, when it comes to administrative decisions and handling of finances, most police departments don't hire civilians to do this kind of work, and police officers aren't necessarily trained in these areas."

Selecting Saint Leo's Online MBA Program

Dr. Christine Sereni-Massinger, an associate professor of graduate criminal justice for Saint Leo, gave a presentation to a group of officers in the Gainesville Police Department several years ago.

"She then connected me to Bif Sheffield who worked in admissions," he recalls. "He told me about the flexibility of the online MBA program and how it can fit into anyone's busy lifestyle. I think that's the big question for working professionals who want another degree is how they will actually have time to do it."

He opted for a general MBA. He started the program in the spring of 2017 and says he's grateful to Saint Leo University for taking a chance on him considering his undergraduate degree and work history.

"I don't think I would have been accepted into other MBA programs because of my criminal justice education and background. In fact, another school was going to require me to take several prerequisites on top of the core courses in their MBA program."

Notable Aspects of the Curriculum

Fanelli recalls a marketing course that stood out to him.

"It was a phenomenal class because it had a very real-world application to it. We were given a company and had to make decisions on how we would approach the marketing and promotion of it. It showed us how marketing decisions ultimately affect the viability of a company."

The classes in which he had group projects and got to know his fellow classmates through these experiences were also memorable. He still points to one of the course assignments in his work today.

"I did my final paper on the business of policing. I still use the paper as a teaching point today."

He wrapped up the graduate degree in just over a year by the summer of 2018. Overall, he says he truly enjoyed the freedom he had in the program.

"It's a great degree to fall back on, especially if I were to ever pursue an opportunity outside of the criminal justice world."

Benefits of Online Degree Programs for Busy Lifestyles

While he recognizes the importance of traditional classroom courses in many cases, he is grateful for online degree programs like the MBA program.

"For working professionals, classroom learning is not always an option because you are confined to being some place at some time on a regular basis," he says. "In my case with a family and full-time job, it's definitely not practical. The online degree allows for the flexibility to log on during the week and complete the coursework on my time. This is an invaluable option."

And what was it like using the distance learning option compared to his undergraduate coursework he completed in a traditional classroom environment?

"It definitely wasn't too much of a leap to do online classes. We're more online than ever in our lives in general these days, and the platform Saint Leo has is very user friendly."

The Bottom Line on Saint Leo University

Community and integrity are the two biggest Saint Leo core values to which he can most relate, especially because of his integral role working in the public sector. While he was an online student, he got to take a tour of University Campus and has been invited to speak at some of the university's education centers near him, demonstrating another example of the community core value.

"Even post-graduation, I still feel a great connection to the Saint Leo community," he says.

He offers up several reasons as to why he'd refer others to Saint Leo University for higher education.

"You will get lots of support from professional faculty. The Saint Leo name is becoming more recognized and respected, and who wouldn't want it on their resume? Plus, you are reminded of the six core values and taking that 'oath' to follow them makes you feel like you are a part of a great community."

A Rewarding Career of Protecting Others

In August of 2003, Fanelli began his career as a patrol officer with the Gainesville Police Department. Since then, he has worn a variety of hats by moving up the ladder to captain.

"I've enjoyed the diversity of my roles," he explains. "I've gotten to do patrol work, burglary, homicide, and sexual assault investigations, policy writing, auditing, compliance, and community outreach and advocacy. How many other jobs out there could I have with such a variety of assignments?"

In 2006, he was named Officer of the Year in the Gainesville Police Department by the Florida Retail Federation. He has also received other departmental awards and played a key role in the agency gaining full accreditation. He currently works as a patrol operations commander.

He believes doors have opened—sometimes unexpectedly—because of his hard work and persistence.

"I've been so blessed to have had so many opportunities in my career. The neat thing is that I didn't seek out most of these opportunities. They were presented to me over time."

Other Significant Roles

In addition to his local agency work, he has served on several federal law enforcement task forces and is a subject-matter expert in gender-based violence investigations. He has traveled around the country teaching new and veteran officers in many local police agencies and is a consultant for the International Association for Chiefs of Police (IACP).

In the community, he has served on the board at the St. Francis House, a local homeless shelter. He currently serves on the board at the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center and also volunteers to help prevent elder abuse.

More Education and Future Goals

He is about halfway through completing a second master's degree in public health with a focus on violence in communities as a fellow in Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health.

"In this program, I am applying a public health model to violence. If you think of a cholera outbreak, it follows a similar pattern as violence. This is because research shows that if you're exposed to violence, you are more likely to engage in violent behavior."

Along with his law enforcement roles, he has gotten into more formal teaching opportunities in recent years. He has taught officers through Advanced Police Concepts and has served as an adjunct instructor for Santa Fe College's Institute of Public Safety. Plus, he has done some lecturing in Saint Leo University's criminal justice degree program. He hopes to teach more in the future.

"I enjoy the classroom environment and seeing the exchange of thoughts and perceptions. I want people to challenge long-held ideas and misconceptions by being comfortable enough to express their views to others."

Finding Time to Unwind

In his spare time, he enjoys kayaking, hiking, yoga, martial arts, and weightlifting.

"My wife is a personal trainer, so I better be moving," he says with a laugh.

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Rob Fanelli and the Ocala Education Center and are used with permission.