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August Commencement Celebrates First PLCJ Graduates

August Commencement Celebrates First PLCJ Graduates

Left to right: Dr. Grant Wilhite, Tyler Sharp, Katie Ritchey, President Tyler Forrest 

College is a unique place because there are students who come from various backgrounds and life experiences. One area of college where this is most prevalent is degree completion programs. Tennessee Wesleyan’s Professional Leadership in Criminal Justice (PLCJ) program is a degree completion program designed to provide students the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice fully online, through flexible classes.

TWU’s August summer graduation celebrated the program’s first graduates, Tyler Sharp and Katie Ritchey. Two students with vastly different experiences before joining the PLCJ program. Tyler joined the Marines and served from 2014 until 2018, before enrolling at TWU in 2019; Katie attended the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 2002 before transferring to Hiwassee to finish her associate degree. She then transferred back to UTK to obtain her bachelor’s degree, but life got in the way; she was unable to finish that year of school.

Tyler started out as a Sociology major with a double minor in Criminal Justice and Spanish. He then learned about the PLCJ program in a conversation he had with Will Nation, the Veteran’s Liasson. Tyler was interested in the program because the classes were flexible and criminal justice was an area of interest for him. He met with Deb Wallace, PLCJ program director, and the rest was history.

Katie was a stay-at-home mom until her youngest child started kindergarten. A part-time paraprofessional job opened at the school where her children attend. After her first year, she realized she enjoyed working with special education kids. She considered going back to school, and since it had been 15 years since she was in school, she wanted to see which of her credits from her transcript would be transferrable. Katie learned that TWU housed all of Hiwassee’s records. She requested information for the program and got an immediate call from Wallace. She submitted all the things she needed to and started classes that following Monday.

Both Tyler and Katie enjoyed the ability to be able to take classes on their own time. Tyler is currently job shadowing the District Attorney’s Office to see if he’s interested in a career of law.

“Ninety percent of the classes are asynchronous, so you are always able to do it on your own time. Many of the professors are adjunct and have professional careers so they understand that work is a priority and are more than willing to work with your schedule,” said Sharp.                                                                                                                               

Katie was balancing her schoolwork, with her job and family; she was still able to stay very involved in her children’s activities.

“Both of my kids are continually active in sports and church, and I rarely missed any of their activities because of my schoolwork. I did attend a few TEAMs meetings from my car during practices, but that was the extent of my ‘inconveniences’,” said Ritchey. “It was so easy to work and maintain my schoolwork. The professors that required a weekly TEAMs meeting were very accommodating and understanding when/if life got in the way,” she continued.

Tyler and Katie have different ways they intend to use their degree. Tyler was always interested in a career in criminal justice. He is in the hiring process with the United States Marshal’s Service to of become a Deputy United States Marshal, where he hopes to become a part of the Fugitive Task Force here in East Tennessee. Tyler is also in the hiring process with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, in hopes of becoming a Special Agent working cases dealing with human trafficking.

While working as a paraprofessional, Katie discovered her desire to work in special education. She is using her bachelor’s degree to catapult her career in education and obtain her license in special education. Although she isn’t pursuing a career in criminal justice, Katie is glad she created a network of people that she can always reach out to if it is in God’s plan to change her career to a field relating to criminal justice.

Both Katie and Tyler are grateful to have Deb working alongside them.

“Ms. Deb was extremely encouraging even knowing that law enforcement was not my end goal. She wisely advised that diversity in education and experiences often are the biggest assets one could have in any field,” said Katie. “She was always a phone call away and reached out at least once a week to check in and make sure I was doing ok,” she continued.

“PLCJ is the way to go. Deb has been monumental in my success as a PLCJ student,” said Tyler. “She helped me sign up for classes, answered any questions I had, helped me apply for jobs, and mentored me all at the same time,” he concluded.

These two graduates are proof that you can go back to school and continue your education and advance in your career or use the opportunity to pursue a new path.

“I would argue that there is not anybody who was more nervous, or unequipped to go back to school, than I was. Not only did I finish, but I did it in a year with grades that I am proud of. I would 100 percent recommend this program to anyone who is considering going back to school,” said Katie.