Aging well, CJ program remains leader in law-enforcement preparation


Dixie Reid

“We have been taught to respect everyone’s opinion on current issues in Sacramento and at the national level.”

At 50, EOP continues mission,
providing paths to student success

Fifty years ago, Sacramento State launched a pilot program to help young Californians from disadvantaged families succeed at college.

The Educational Opportunity Program has been achieving that goal, student by student, ever since.

EOP began as a pilot program at Sac State in 1968. The following year the state Legislature established similar programs at all CSU campuses.

As it celebrates its 50th year, the EOP is pushing to improve access and retention of low-income or educationally disadvantaged students, says Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, associate vice president for Student Retention and Academic Success.

“It is truly a very fitting time to celebrate as a program, and to thank our campus and community partners for helping to advance the rich legacy of EOP,” she says.

EOP, serving about 1,500 students each year, provides mentoring, advising, workshops, the Summer Bridge Academy, volunteer opportunities and other resources to help students earn degrees from Sac State. 

Rafael Ceja Ayala is an EOP success.

Ayala graduated in 2018 with a bachelor of arts in mathematics and in the fall 2019 semester plans to pursue a doctorate in the same subject at Purdue University, he says.

An immigrant from Mexico, Ayala at one time “did not see anything beyond working in the fields” in his future, he writes in EOP’s online newsletter. He credited EOP with helping him build perseverance and resilience to succeed in college.

“EOP provided me the opportunity to continue growing socially, academically, and professionally,” he says. “It was the bridge I needed to transition from high school to college.”

—Cynthia Hubert

Five decades of leadership and innovation have led Sac State’s Criminal Justice (CJ) program to a level of national prominence that is being celebrated this year during the division’s golden anniversary.

The program has a reputation for excellence based in part on the number of alumni who hold high-ranking positions in law enforcement, both regionally and beyond, and also on its innovative Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars (LECS), the nation’s first scholars-to-officers program.

Sac State boasts the second-largest criminal justice program in the United States, with 1,800 students. 

“Criminal Justice is a popular program, and I believe it’s because we do a good job of educating students and preparing them for jobs and service in law enforcement and allied fields,” says division chair Professor Ernest Uwazie. “As society grapples with what to do with offenders and offending behavior, TV shows like CSI and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit also contribute to CJ’s popularity.”

Faculty incorporate current and controversial events – such as the 2018 fatal shooting of unarmed Stephon Clark by Sacramento police – into classroom discussions, says Ryan Getty, assistant professor and a former police chief in Texas.  

“Professors watch for students who may have difficulty with sensitive or controversial topics, but these are real-life types of issues,” he says. “They address issues such as the Clark shooting and make them a teachable moment within the confines of free speech, while maintaining a safe place for students to grieve or vent.”

The Division of Criminal Justice celebrated its 50 years of justice education leadership with an April 13 gala at the Leslie and Anita Harper Alumni Center, when it debuted the faculty-produced textbook Critical Issues in Criminal Justice: Historical Perspectives (Cognella, 356 pages). It was edited by Uwazie and Getty, along with faculty members Jennifer Noble and Mercedes Valadez. Current and past faculty and alumni contributed chapters.

The textbook, Uwazie says, “honors the past and strives toward academic excellence in the future.”

Ahead is the first faculty-led study-abroad trip, to Ghana in July 2019. Assistant Professor Nicole Fox, Uwazie and 12 students will spend two weeks in the West African nation for comparative-justice study. They will attend lectures, accompany police, and visit courts, prisons, and community dispute-resolution centers.

Also planned is a postbaccalaureate certificate for professionals who work with crime victims, the homeless, or offenders returning from incarceration. The program will be offered through the College of Continuing Education as early as fall 2020.

“Over the years, classes have been created to benefit students’ specific interests,” says Meghan McGuire, president of the campus chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society. “From gangs to mental illness, there is something for everyone. In our core classes, we are highly encouraged to talk about hot-topic issues involving all aspects of law enforcement. 

“We have been taught to respect everyone’s opinion on current issues in Sacramento and at the national level.”

Since the launch of LECS (pronounced “lex”), more than 20 Sac State graduates have gone on to careers with partner agencies the Sacramento Police Department or the California Highway Patrol. LECS is open to all juniors and seniors, regardless of their major, and is designed to prepare them to succeed as police officers and future law enforcement leaders. 

Other CJ innovations include the Alpine Hall crime-scene lab, where faculty stage “murders,” complete with evidence and an abundance of fake blood. Students use classroom techniques to identify would-be perpetrators.

CJ also runs a prelaw advising program that serves the University at large, a law enforcement mentoring program, a criminal justice research center, and the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution. A new, three-year program funded by a $150,000 grant from the city of Sacramento has CJ students conducting hearings for people who want to contest parking violations.

“I have witnessed firsthand the impressive work of our Criminal Justice students, faculty, and staff, and the positive impact they have,” says Fred Baldini, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “This impact is felt by local and global communities in critical areas, including police and community relations, human trafficking, immigration, mental health, restorative justice, and related policy.”

Although CJ celebrated its half-century as a division, the program dates to 1949, when then-Sacramento State College offered four evening courses in police science and administration through the Government department. In 1969, Police Science and Administration was elevated to a department and soon was renamed the Division of Criminal Justice.


Dixie Reid

Dixie Reid has been a writer for Sac State since 2012 after decades as a newspaper reporter. A Texas native with the accent to prove it, Dixie is crazy about “dear friends, big dogs, good books, great food, day trips, baking cookies, California sunshine (and fog), and kind people.”