With no appealing future occupations popping up during high school career day, Beth Whittington took the law enforcement field into her own hands.
"I was looking over the list and thought, 'Really, I don't want to do any of this,'" she said. "Back in those days, they didn't have anybody representing law enforcement at career day. I had some relatives and friends who were in the field, so I began asking questions, going to their places of business and checking it out a little further. That's how I got my foot in that door."
More than 40 years later, Whittington is in her 24th year as a criminal justice professor at LSUA. In January 2018, the university officially made criminal justice a department and Whittington its chair.
"When I was working on my master's degree, I did some adjunct teaching at Northeast Louisiana University [now the University of Louisiana Monroe]," she said. "I really liked it. I worked Child Protective Services for less than a year when I heard LSUA was hiring their first full-time person. I applied late because I didn't know about it, but I ended up getting it. It's very rewarding."
LSUA Department of Criminal Justice now has three full-time criminal justice instructors and a full pool of adjunct professors. The growing number of students drove the formation of the department.
"We're just growing and going right now," Whittington said. "We've got a lot in place that enables students to complete the online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program. There are a lot of people out there working, so the online degree program is the only way that they can do it. We're glad to be able to provide that avenue for them."
Take That, Career Day
Whittington hit the ground running in law enforcement, working in the offices of the District Attorney and City Marshal. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Law Enforcement from Northeast Louisiana University in 1977. Whittington spent 18 years working for the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department in Monroe.
"I started out at the bottom as a court bailiff," Whittington said. "The last six years that I was there, I was in the Criminal Investigation Division. I headed up the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Unit."
Her job was incredibly difficult but also rewarding.
"You give these kids a voice that they would otherwise not have," Whittington said. "They can't speak for themselves many times. They have this massive issue that needs to be dealt with, and they have no clue as to how to disclose it many times."
An added challenge for Whittington was raising her own children while seeing other children in such perilous situations. She has a son and a daughter who were born while she worked for the sheriff's department.
"As a mother, you shield them from a lot of it," she said.
As in many areas of law enforcement, there was also a constant battle with the clock.
"You'd say, 'I have all of these cases and this much time. If I take care of this one today, it ties me up so I can't stop this other person from going out and committing a crime again,'" Whittington said. "Sometimes that would mess with your mind."
Whittington was established at LSUA when police shows focusing on her area of expertise, such as NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, hit the airwaves.
"I can't watch some of those shows," she said. "I'm like, 'They can't do that; they'll get in trouble for that.' We have to make our students realize, 'Okay, here's the real world. Here's where the two differ.' But, it certainly has brought an awareness and a big interest for our students with all of these types of shows on television. Those shows can't capture all of the emotions that you deal with."
Despite a hectic schedule, Whittington teaches at two sex crimes investigation academies -- one at the Alexandria Regional Police Academy and another one in Bossier City, Louisiana, each year. Clearly, teaching is in her soul.
"I love interacting with students and preparing them for the real world," Whittington said. "We're not the easiest on them, but we do that with the future in mind so they will succeed. We have a good rapport with our students."
So much so that several former students return as adjuncts.
"It's neat that our graduates who have gone on and are gainfully employed in various aspects of the field of criminal justice are the ones who are coming back and teaching for us," Whittington said. "They know the program. They know the rigor. They know what our intent is. And their heart is in it."
Whittington is thrilled about the future of the LSUA Criminal Justice Department and that all of the hard work she and her colleagues put into it is paying off. She hopes the online program continues to grow.
"When we hit the ground running those first two years of the online program, we didn't see the light of day because we were trying to transition," she said. "It's very rewarding to have it, but we want a whole lot more people in there."
As Whittington continues preparing students for the real world, she stands by the two most important traits for any member of the criminal justice field: honesty and integrity.
"With law enforcement, we preach that," she said. "Writing well is also a big part of what we do. You have to have the caring part of it. 'Why are you in this? What difference can you make?' It's more than just a job -- it's a career. It's something that is near and dear to your heart.'"
Whittington figures she has about five years before retirement.
"That's not etched in stone, but I want to go on to grandchildren and enjoy life and travel -- all of the stuff that you don't get to do when you're working," she said.
Until then, she'll continue to enjoy the journey from frustration at career day to the satisfaction of laying career foundations.
"I went to human trafficking training not too long ago," Whittington said. "Six of the investigators sitting in there working were my prior students. It's pretty rewarding that you, in a sense, cloned yourself to go out and make a difference in this world."
Learn more about the LSUA online BS in Criminal Justice program.
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