Nicholas Freeland doesn't have any actual law enforcement experience. However, he has more than a decade of on-the-job training in close proximity to law enforcement as a biologist technician for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
"I work on the game reserves," Freeland said. "After working side-by-side with game wardens for almost 11 years, I finally decided to try to transfer from the biology division to law enforcement. My coworkers helped me want to pursue it."
The first step toward Freeland's career change is earning a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice through the online program at LSUA. He is two courses away from graduating in Summer 2018.
"The game warden position doesn't require a criminal justice degree, but it requires 60 semester hours of college," he said. "However, if you have a criminal justice degree, it looks better and can help you get promoted throughout the department."
The bachelor's degree also provides Freeland with a backup plan in case he doesn't end up in a position with the State of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
"The bachelor's degree is going to open several doors for law enforcement opportunities in the future," he said. "Of course, I'm going to try to stay here with the department as a game warden. I'm trying to figure this all out."
Freeland knew an online format was the only way he could earn a bachelor's degree, given his full-time job. In addition, he and his wife, Jenna, stay busy with three children, Allie (7), Bayleigh (4) and Caleb (3).
"At first, my wife was concerned about me being able to handle the load," he said. "I work 40-plus hours per week. It's very demanding. I love my job, and I didn't want to jeopardize my employment with the state.
"I informed my boss, 'Hey, I'm going back to school. I won't let it interfere with my job. I'm going to work on it as much as I can off duty.' He understood. Everybody has been very supportive."
LSUA offered several attractive qualities that sold Freeland on enrolling. Although it's an online program, one of those qualities was proximity.
"I live in Monroe, so LSUA is about two hours from my house," he said. "I wanted a college that I could actually go to if needed. If there's an issue or problem that needs to be taken care of, I can get in the truck and be down there in two hours. Plus, being in the LSU system was appealing."
The flexibility of the program made fitting schoolwork into Freeland's busy schedule both realistic and manageable.
"It's worked out well," he said. "You have to learn to manage your time with what you're supposed to do and when you have to have it turned in. They give you a date and time, and you have to have something in to show you're trying to learn the material. You can't just ignore it. They put a date and time there for a reason. You've got to learn to balance work, children and diapers."
Mile High Quiz
Freeland's favorite courses in the curriculum to date are CJUS 2131: Police Process, taught by his adviser, Beth Whittington, and CJUS 3215: Juvenile Delinquency, taught by Mike Wright. Freeland thinks both courses are informative and have very interesting material.
"The thing I remember about Police Process is that we took a family trip to Colorado," he said, "We were on top of a mountain about 10,000 feet in elevation. I had an assignment and a quiz to take, and I had my laptop with me.
"I'm sitting up there on Wi-Fi at this horse ranch in Colorado trying to do my quiz. I was able to do it and submit it and we worked through it there, 2,000 miles from the house. That was very convenient to not miss any schoolwork."
Even with Freeland's job as a biologist technician, some of the knowledge from the BS in Criminal Justice curriculum was applicable.
"A lot of the psychology and criminal justice classes help you understand people and the way that they think and how to handle them," he said. "I deal with public hunters and fishermen every day."
Freeland also enjoys the fact that he can catch up on anything he needs to know for school whenever he has a couple of free minutes at work.
"I look at it for updates throughout the day," he said. "You can look at it on your phone. If I'm out here in the woods and I get a break, I'll glance through it. It's very flexible."
Once Freeland graduates from the bachelor's program, a rigorous 28-week law enforcement academy program is up next. Before that, he plans to attend the LSUA graduation ceremony to celebrate his accomplishment. He is already familiar with the route to Alexandria.
"I've traveled down to the campus to take exams six or eight times throughout this process," said Freeland, who graduated with an Associate of Arts from Louisiana Delta College in 2007. "When I started the program, my wife said, 'You should be over halfway there since you have a two-year degree.' Pretty much all of my credits transferred."
Not surprisingly, Freeland and his wife, who has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, enjoy hunting, fishing and traveling. When he got his final grades in December 2017, the family loaded up the truck and went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Hopefully, Freeland will be a game warden once 2019 rolls around and have many more trips to enjoy with his family. No matter what, he knows LSUA's criminal justice program fully prepared him to transition into law enforcement.
"You have to be patient," he said. "Don't get in a hurry. A degree is not going to happen fast. It is an accelerated program that you have to be willing to keep up with. You can't just sign up for it and then turn your head the other way.
"You've got to put your time and your effort into the work. They're not just going to give you a free pass. You've got to commit to it -- especially if you're a working father of three who has plenty going on other than school. Don't give up."
Most of all, don't be afraid to take a chance and pursue a dream, like Freeland.
Learn more about the LSUA online BS in Criminal Justice program.
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