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Practitioners Make Perfect

Joseph Pascarella, Ph.D., and the Career-centric Criminal Justice Program

“Six students, two teachers in each class — they completely dote on you. It’s amazing.” Criminal justice assistant professor Joseph Pascarella, Ph.D., has witnessed firsthand the perks of the Finnish educational system.

The former police captain taught at the National Police College of Finland under a Fulbright Fellowship in 2003, and his daughter attended one of Finland’s renowned public schools.

“Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world. Each room [in my daughter’s public school] was different: a math room, a reading room.” Dr. Pascarella retells his daughter’s affinity for her education, and her reluctance to return to the States: “She was crying her last day.”

More than 4,000 miles west, with a student-faculty ratio of 15-to-1, St. Joseph’s College reflects the small classes, devoted instructors and specialized subject areas for which Finland schools are renowned.

It’s this emphasis on intimate and specialized instruction, delivered by career practitioners from the field, which led Dr. Pascarella to the Brooklyn Campus’ burgeoning criminal justice program in 2008.

A New York City police officer for two decades, Greenpoint’s Dr. Pascarella earned a bachelor’s degree from Rowan University, a master’s degree in from John Jay College and a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from the City University of New York, all in criminal justice. Early on, he knew he wanted to be involved in law enforcement, and so he started a career with the NYPD in the midst of his education.

“I was in graduate school for about two years, and then I joined the police department,” Dr. Pascarella says. After joining the force and earning his M.A., he then pursued his Ph.D. during 10 years of dedicated study and service.

“I wound up working midnights as a police officer to try and manage my education … and that turned out to be a whole new learning experience.”

For those working adult learners seeking to advance their careers, and the young students seeking their first jobs, collegiate learning experiences are indeed varied. It’s the professional connections offered by SJC that provide every type of learner with some common ground.

For students within the criminal justice major, these professional connections are available through specialized internships, networking opportunities and career-specific learning tracks. Advantages of these offerings are clear, especially to a veteran of the largest municipal police force in the United States.

“We have five tracks that we tailor to job trends [Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, Law and Justice, Community Correctional Alternatives, and Technology and the Criminal Justice System],” Dr. Pascarella says. “Students can have a general interest in criminal justice, then they can hone in on their career specialization through the tracks.”

The expanded criminal justice degree at Brooklyn will shortly be offering classes in the two newest of those five tracks: Community Correctional Alternatives, and Technology and the Criminal Justice System. After observing the evolution of crime and the changes to criminal patterns, Dr. Pascarella says the demand is growing for graduates with experience in these fields.

“The current infrastructure for criminal justice is based upon older crime threats that just don’t exist today. There are lower rates of street crime, and the current system as constructed is better suited to address street crime and interpersonal violence. We need to go into a major paradigm shift, we have to prepare our students for the next generation of crime, which is information based and more likely to use cyber technology.”

In a world of policing, an influx of information is absolutely paramount. It’s an obvious parallel, then, that an instructor handpicked from the NYPD would be well suited for education.

Dr. Pascarella is directly involved in bringing in outside professionals, assisting in special events and overseeing internships. And it’s the feedback of criminal justice students who participate in internships and learn from those in the field, that mean the most to Dr. Pascarella.

“I have a couple of interns that went into the police department and came back to me after three weeks and said, ‘Listen, I hate this. I can’t stand this.’” he says. “That’s a good thing. This way, you know what you don’t like, you can check it off your list. You don’t want to spend your career doing something you hate, and I consider that a successful internship: finding out what you don’t or do like within the system.”

Successful criminal justice internships are certainly one of the reasons the major’s Brooklyn enrollment has risen by 89 percent in four years. That, and the seasoned instructors who have experienced full careers within the criminal justice system.

“Everyone’s a practitioner at SJC. That’s what makes this program very unique,” Dr. Pascarella says.

Coming from a former resident of Finland, that’s high praise.

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