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Master’s in Criminal Justice Alum Looks Forward to Post-Naval Career

Meet U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Firkins, a recent alumnus of the online master’s in criminal justice degree program from Saint Leo University.

A head shot of Chris Firkins, a Saint Leo University online master's in criminal justice degree alumnus, wearing his Navy uniform

For two decades, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Firkins has devoted his life to military service through a successful career with multiple overseas deployments. Recently having earned a master’s in criminal justice degree from Saint Leo University, he is looking forward to wrapping up his rewarding Naval career to explore some exciting opportunities in criminal investigations.

The 44-year-old native of Del City, OK is married to Gwen. They have six children and a Morkie named Rock. He lives in San Diego, CA and works at the Surface Combat Systems Training Command (SCTSC) location there.

Making the Choice to Serve His Country

Military service runs in the Firkins lineage. His grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years and his dad spent six years in the same branch. Firkins opted for the Navy.

“When I was younger, I applied for the police academy but lost out to guys who had served in the military,” he recalls.

In 2002, he picked up and left Oklahoma to attend boot camp. Now a chief operations specialist, he works as a Navy instructor.

“I teach air intercept control,” he explains. “We look at air, surface, and subsurface maneuvering. I teach senior sailors who have been out in the fleet for a while. I’m teaching them to become air controllers.”

He has been on five deployments, all to areas of the Persian Gulf region. His service has taken him to Bahrain, Dubai, Malaysia, The Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and India.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in my time,” he reflects. “I have learned that hard work does pay off and anything is possible.”

A Unique Journey in Higher Education

Originally starting college as a traditional-age student at a few small schools in Oklahoma, he admits he struggled academically early on.

“I played around too much and did not take it seriously and my GPA suffered because of it,” he says.

As an adult learner, he decided to finally go back to school and was actually on sea duty when he completed his undergraduate studies, earning a BS in criminal justice from the University of Oklahoma in 2016. Considering his early path, he never envisioned the ability or desire to pursue a master’s degree.

Discovering Saint Leo’s Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program

An instructor from his bachelor’s degree program referred him to Saint Leo University because of his keen interest in forensics and criminal investigations.

“She encouraged me to look into graduate degree programs in Florida, including Saint Leo University. The fact that they didn’t require me to take the GRE was a big selling point for me. I also liked the specialization in criminal investigations that they offered in their master’s in criminal justice program.”

Firkins began the online MS in criminal justice with a specialization in criminal investigations degree program in 2017. After taking a short break due to a deployment, he picked up where he left off in 2019 and completed the coursework in August of 2021.

Criminal Justice Courses & Professors of Note

His favorite courses in the program included Impact of Terrorism on Homeland Security, Crime Scene Investigations & Management, Criminal Sexual Behaviors, Investigative Methodologies of Violence, and Causes & Control of Juvenile Delinquency.

In addition to the thought-provoking curriculum, he has so many positive things to say about the instructors who taught him in the online graduate degree program.

“Dr. Phillip Neely was awesome and so supportive. My capstone professor, Dr. Forrest Beach, was great in guiding me with my capstone paper.”

In spite of his somewhat unpredictable work schedule at times, he says that all of his instructors were so willing to ensure he could finish his assignments in a timely manner.

“All of my professors were professional. They took the time to actually critique my work in detail and pointed me in the right direction with my research. Those critiques r truly beneficial when it comes to learning the material.”

He was also impressed with the educational background of each faculty member in the criminal justice degree program.

“Every professor I had is a doctorate in their field,” he says. “This means a lot to me.”

He adds that the support staff members with whom he interacted were also so valuable to his success as a graduate student.

“My advisor, Sophina Marshall, was absolutely amazing. If I ever had a question or concern, she got back to me or put me in contact with someone if she wasn’t available.”

Benefits of Online Degree Programs

Like so many adult learners, Firkins would not have been able to earn his college degrees without the opportunity to complete them online.

“The online format helps people continue to work full time or be at home with their kids. It kind of forces you to do research because you’re not getting traditional lectures in a classroom. Instead, you’re getting more reading assignments and discussion questions to answer in writing. You have to do the reading to demonstrate that you understand the material.”

He cannot thank his wife, Gwen, enough for her support during his education.

“Being an online student, I was basically the only one to hold myself accountable,” he shares. “My wife would take the kids and handle them so I could focus on my schoolwork. She would bring me lunch while I was doing homework or studying.”

And what tips for success would he give to anyone considering this graduate criminal justice degree program?

“When you get into the program, lock yourself in, take some time to do it, understand your time management, and u will be successful.”

Meaningful Saint Leo University Core Values

Firkins was proud to complete his master’s in criminal justice at a university with six core values that mean so much to him.

“In every aspect of your life, you can incorporate any of the Saint Leo core values. If you’re doing one, chances r you’re probably doing the others. In every paper I wrote where I had to discuss the core values, I was able to tie each of them into the criminal justice field.”

There are plenty of parallels between these core values and what the Navy expects from its sailors, he adds.

“The Navy has its own values of honor, courage, and commitment. These align right along with the Saint Leo core values.”

Looking into a Crystal Ball

As far as looking ahead, he hopes to find a position related to criminal investigations once he puts a bow on his Navy career. He is also considering earning a cybersecurity certification and could see himself applying this to a criminal justice role. Ultimately, he knows deep down that when he goes on the job market, his resume will be tough to beat.

“There is something to be said about a graduate degree in general,” he says. “I am confident that my military experience and education combination will say a lot.”

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

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