Written by: Kedrick Nettleton, Staff Writer
As befitting a university built upon the foundation of biblical truth, justice is vital to the mission of OKWU. Campus organizations like the Orange Movement seek justice and mercy for the least and lost among society, but it doesn’t stop there. This passion extends all the way across the university to include a robust, experiential, and ever-expanding Criminal Justice major.
The program, under the direction of Professor Eric Peterson, is relatively new to the OKWU catalogue, but has been a popular choice among students since it was first introduced. Careers for students in the Criminal Justice program are varied and can include opportunities in law enforcement, investigation, government, animal justice, wildlife conservation, and criminal law.
“From a Christian perspective, the ground is equal at the foot of the cross… what if I view the person as a lost soul whom God loves? That changes the value of people, fundamentally. That’s the difference that I try to teach here: people are valuable.”
The seeds of the program were planted in 2012, when Eric Peterson was hired to build the curriculum for the major in service of an adult online program. He was a familiar face around campus, having graduated from OKWU with a business degree. He also brought an incredible wealth of experience to the program’s development, having served with the Bartlesville Police Department, in a variety of roles, for almost 25 years.
During that time, Peterson climbed the ladder. He was a Lieutenant at the time he came to OKWU, he was in charge of a patrol division, and he was a firearms instructor and Rangemaster. Over the course of his career, he had been a member of the special operations team, worked in investigation, and had served as the department’s Crime Stoppers’ liaison, for which he had been internationally recognized.
“When you’re in a smaller department, you do a lot of different things,” Peterson said, noting that this range of experience has come to be an advantage as a teacher.
The first online Criminal Justice cohort began in 2012, and the major proved popular enough to warrant a shift to the traditional undergraduate side in the fall of 2013. The first full class of OKWU Criminal Justice majors graduated in 2017, and it remains a popular major, one of the larger specialties within the Chesapeake Energy School of Business.
For Peterson, what sets OKWU’s program apart is its combination of experiential learning and academic theory. “You have to have a good mix of theory and academics and knowledge as a base, but you have to have a dose of reality. You need to know what it looks like when you deal with people in the real world,” he said. “That’s why I love teaching this.”
The program’s commitment to the integration of faith with learning is also a unique factor, a key difference in such a tumultuous career field. “What we believe is how we react,” Peterson said, noting the inherent value of humanity that comes with the Christian faith, which has the power to influence how an individual in law enforcement treats those people he comes into contact with.
“From a Christian perspective, the ground is equal at the foot of the cross… what if I view the person as a lost soul whom God loves?” Peterson said. “That changes the value of people, fundamentally. That’s the difference that I try to teach here: people are valuable.”
And students have been receptive to the message. Graduates of the program have gone on to work as police officers, both locally and in the greater United States; they have become child welfare investigators, security personnel, and have pursued careers in law.
“Having the ability to learn from current experts helped keep me on top of modern trends and shifting landscapes as I prepared to enter that field myself, and also helped me build a network of relationships that led to numerous internships and job opportunities.”
Liam Watts is a senior Criminal Justice major who’s intent on continuing on into law after his time at OKWU. For him, the program’s focus on real-world application was deeply valuable, and is a main reason he feels equipped to move forward.
“Personally, I found that one of the most unique aspects of the program at OKWU was its emphasis on practical experience, and its integration of current professionals in the field,” Watts said. “I had the opportunity to interact face to face with and learn from current judges, officers, sheriff’s deputies, attorneys, and other criminal justice professionals in a variety of settings. Having the ability to learn from current experts helped keep me on top of modern trends and shifting landscapes as I prepared to enter that field myself, and also helped me build a network of relationships that led to numerous internships and job opportunities.”
“The students that we have here are hungry,” Peterson said. “They’re a sharp group.”
For more information on the Criminal Justice major at OKWU, click here.