Executive director of U.S. Department of Education initiative visits campus, learns about LEAP program

Aimee Viana, executive director for the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, here with Assistant Vice President for University Relations Carlos Becerra (in striped tie), met with students during a visit to FIU.

This semester two-time alumna Aimee Viana, who is now the executive director for the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, came to FIU to explore the university’s programs and strategies for fostering innovation in education and success for its students.

She visited the Tech Station and met with students from the STEM Transformation Institute, Math Mastery Lab and Florida Power and Light Customer Care Center. She also met with faculty and administration to learn more about the groundbreaking Law Enforcement Apprenticeship Program (LEAP) offered through the Steven J. Green School of International and Public AffairsDepartment of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“We’ve been thrilled to be invited to FIU,” Viana said. “There’s certainly a lot of innovation happening and there’s many ways that faculty and administration have worked to meet the needs of their student population, thinking outside of the box.”

The LEAP program was specifically highlighted and discussed throughout Viana’s visit as one of the trailblazing programs at FIU that is pushing the envelope on ways of, as Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Elizabeth Bejar explained, bridging the divide between theory and practice in education.

LEAP successfully combines classroom instruction with specialized police training and workplace experience. The program offers two options to help current and future law enforcement officers earn their bachelor’s degrees in either criminal justice or crime science.

Current students who are not yet law enforcement officers can get real-world experience while earning up to 15 credits for their degree by graduating from a Florida state-certified law enforcement academy.

Students who are currently working as certified law enforcement officers can also earn up to 15 credits for their degrees by completing a minimum of 120 hours of Florida state-certified courses for advanced and specialized training programs.

“No other state university in Florida is doing this,” said Lisa Stolzenberg, chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “This is about meeting our students’ needs.”

Stolzenberg said the apprenticeship idea came from FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg, who reached out to her to discuss future possibilities of such a program within the department after attending an annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

LEAP has begun at just the perfect time.

Law enforcement has changed over the last few decades, with the increased adoption of new technology, shifts in criminal methodologies and wide-ranging community demands requiring varying policing styles and accountability.

Research consistently finds that college-educated police officers demonstrate better overall job performance, have enhanced opportunities for professional advancement and act with greater discretion, tolerance and restraint when confronting citizen resistance.

“Modern police departments need officers who are capable of leading change and who have the capacity to utilize highly developed critical thinking skills that are necessary in an evolving technology-oriented society,” said Carleen Vincent-Robinson, LEAP Director and Associate Chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “Educated law enforcement professionals are essential to the future success of modern police departments.”

The department’s new crime science degree, which launched in the fall of 2018 and is the first STEM-focused criminal justice degree in the country – also caught Viana’s attention.

Offered both in-person and fully online, the degree combines forensics and computer science with traditional criminology and criminal justice. The program equips students with the know-how of the latest technological advances that can help them solve crimes and keep our increasingly technologically-sophisticated communities safe.

“I commend you, your team and your university for re-thinking the way you offer these vital services to these crucial members of the South Florida community,” Viana said. “You are embedding STEM in criminal justice. Thank you for your commitment. I have no doubt this will be beneficial to the local police department and inspirational for other universities.”

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