Dr. Jessica Grosholz's class meets with members of the Salvation Army and Sarasota Sheriff's Office.

USFSM criminology class adds realism with field visits

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: December 08, 2017

SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 08, 2017) Dr. Jessica Grosholz’s criminology class, Prisoner Reentry and Recidivism, has students mixing classroom lessons with experiences “in the field,” and some of the students say they’ve acquired a new perspective on jail reentry programs.

The students, mostly juniors and seniors at USF Sarasota-Manatee, spent the better part of the semester visiting the Sarasota County Jail and Salvation Army to watch reentry preparation and recovery classes and chat with counselors, inmates and former inmates about their struggles to integrate back into society.

Dr. Jessica Grosholz

Dr. Grosholz, who visited a prison as an undergraduate, said the visits’ aim was to bring realism to the students’ lessons in a way that can’t be expressed through textbooks and lectures. Many of the students are considering careers in law enforcement, including at the Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail.

“I think it’s important for them to understand the process that people go through while in the legal system,” she said.

Sarasota’s jail, with 30 to 35 inmate programs, offered the perfect laboratory. Some of the programs focused on basic life skills, such job hunting, but many delved into deeper issues like addiction recovery and techniques to cope with stress and avoid destructive behavior. The students also chatted with former inmates about which classes seemed most helpful.

All of the visits and interviews were conducted under secure, controlled conditions.

Last Thursday, the students gave classroom presentations to suggest possible new programs and changes to existing ones. Representatives from the Salvation Army and the Sheriff’s Office, who were on hand, applauded the effort.

Jeron Thomas, 23, a junior, said he was surprised at the progressive approach taken by the Sheriff’s Office.

“There were a lot more programs offered than I expected,” he said.

Ashley Wichern, 22, a senior, agreed and added she was taken by how many inmates sign up for the courses. She graduates in the spring and is considering graduate school with an eye toward reentry programs within the prison system.

“I think it was great,” she said. “I think every student should be required to volunteer or work in their chosen field to see what’s actually going on there. You can learn only so much from books. Once you see it in action, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

USFSM CSD student grateful for career change

Deborah Hughes says she wasn’t feeling the passion at her previous job as an electrical engineer.

Laid off from a major technology company, Hughes said she enjoyed the work but felt more fulfilled working with children, including her 8-year-old, who is dealing with a chronic communication disorder.

That’s when Hughes, 47 and a mom of two boys, opted to reinvent herself. Enter USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Communication Sciences & Disorders (CSD) program, which set Hughes on a path toward a new career and renewed her enthusiasm.

Deborah Hughes

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it’s not always about the money. It’s about the passion and the daily rewards,” she said.

Talking with her son’s therapist, a USFSM alum, steered Hughes toward USFSM’s College of Science & Mathematics, which hosts the CSD program.

Investigating further, she learned that she could apply credits from her engineering degree toward her CSD degree. As a result, instead of four years of classes, she’ll be able to earn a CSD bachelor’s degree in 18 to 24 months. Also, she was able to take classes online to avoid traveling from her home in suburban Atlanta.

Now a senior, Hughes expects to graduate in the spring. “This has been life-changing for me and I cannot wait to see how all this unfolds within the next several years,” she said.

Always willing to tutor young children at school or church, Hughes muses that she’s long harbored an interest in children’s well-being.

As her sons became older, that interest intensified and grew. Through the CSD program, Hughes can now delve into how the brain processes language and other information while also learning techniques to help clients overcome language disorders.

“This program is a must for anyone who is seeking to become a speech pathologist,” she said. “The faculty is amazing. This program definitely prepares you for grad school. The instructors all give real-life scenarios and really focus on helping students understand exactly what to expect once we enter the workforce.”

Hughes’ next career move: She wants to open a pediatric speech therapy practice.

“I would strongly recommend this program,” she said.

USFSM sends four to SACSCOC conference

The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee was well-represented when two administrators and two faculty members were invited to present their research at the annual meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

SACSCOC is the recognized regional accrediting body in eleven U.S. Southern states for nearly 800 institutions of higher education that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral degrees.

Of the 187 sessions during the Dec 2-5 SACSCOC conference in Dallas, three were conducted by USFSM representatives.

Dr. Bonnie Jones

“This indicates that USFSM values accreditation and is positioning itself as an expert resource within the southern region,” said Dr. Bonnie Jones, assistant vice president for institutional research and effectiveness at USFSM.

Dr. Jones, one of the conference speakers, presented on ways higher education institutions can enact substantive curricular changes that meet with SACSCOC’s approval and receive continued federal student financial aid. The title of her talk was, “We didn’t report WHAT? Preventing a ‘Heart Attack’ over Substantive Change,” in keeping with the conference theme of, “Students are the HEART of Education.”

This was Dr. Jones’ eighth time presenting her research at a SACSCOC conference.

She was joined there by USFSM faculty members Dr. Phillip Wagner, chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Dr. Michael Gillespie, director of USFSM Incredi-Bull Critical Thinking, a university-wide endeavor to enhance undergraduate students’ critical thinking skills.

Jennifer Post, administrator of Incredi-Bull Critical Thinking, joined Dr. Gillespie for a presentation, “Creating structures and processes to promote success in your mission.” Dr. Wagner’s presentation focused on “Diversity and inclusion: The heartbeat of institutional success.”

The group submitted abstracts of their research in March and learned in June of their selection, following a peer-reviewed process, to speak at the SACSCOC conference.

“It’s always an honor to be invited to address an academic conference,” Dr. Jones said. “But it’s also a learning experience because of the feedback I receive from my peers. I always learn something new.”

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