Q&A with Criminal Justice Student Ryan Painter

Criminal Justice graduate student Ryan Painter ’17, from Roseburg, Ore., talked to us about his experience at WOU and in our Criminal Justice graduate program. Painter is focused on law enforcement and is particularly interested in working at the federal level.

Why did you choose WOU?
I chose WOU because of its incredible reputation for criminal justice education. Having heard about Western’s reputation made it an easy decision for me after graduating high school, and after visiting campus I knew that this was where I would be continuing my education. It was the only place I applied to, I was that sure.

Why did you choose the Criminal Justice program?
As I said, the Criminal Justice program has a very good reputation not only in Oregon, but throughout the country. We have agencies coming from out of state to recruit students from Western Oregon. Having such a well-known university in the state I grew up in made my decision very easy. I did my undergrad at WOU as well. I enjoyed my time at WOU so much that when I heard there was a graduate program offered here I knew this is where I would continue to further my education.

How do you feel this degree will help you with your career?
Coming in, I had very good knowledge in various aspects of the criminal justice system. The graduate program is going to help me further my career because it is educating me from the perspective of a leadership position. This knowledge will be invaluable for advancing my career because it will give me the knowledge that I believe is necessary for taking on any role in leadership throughout the criminal justice system. Taking similarly themed classes as I did in my undergrad with an emphasis on the role of leadership has allowed me to not only further my understanding of these topics but to see the differences and similarities that present themselves from this different perspective.

What advice do you have for anyone considering this program?
Focus on being efficient with your time. The classes require a lot of time in order to do well but are very manageable if you’re are effectively using your time. While the classes are time-consuming, they are definitely worth the effort.

What has been one of the most challenging parts of the program?
I think learning to value my time in a different way than my undergrad has been a challenge. In my undergrad, the focus was on managing time between classes. However, in the grad program you don’t take as many credits, and while the classes do take a majority of your time, you should be spending time making connections and advancing your career as well. I have been very fortunate in the grad program, having been able to make great connections and finding mentors with experience in the field

Who has been your favorite professor/instructor so far?
Dr. Vivian Djokotoe. I am just so impressed by her care and commitment to her students. While all the professors at WOU care about their students, she really takes it to another level. The first time I took her class, she remembered my name from one conversation we had three years prior. That really blew me away. I’ve never had a teacher who works so hard to ensure that her students have every chance for success possible, and cares for the student as an individual and not just as a student.

Has your work in the Criminal Justice program changed your views or assumptions about a topic or preconceived idea?
Absolutely. My time in the Criminal Justice program has shown me there are much deeper issues to address in the criminal justice system than I realized coming into the program. Through this program, I have learned that the best possible approach to criminal justice is taking a more community-based approach to policing, and that focusing on rehabilitation rather than strictly incarcerating prisoners is a much more beneficial approach to criminal justice than the policies that are currently in place. I would have had no idea what I was talking about now when I first came into this program.

With the Criminal Justice program offering a variety of in-person, online and hybrid classes, how have you taken most of your classes?
In my undergrad, I took many of my courses on campus, but I have been exclusively an online student in the grad program. The fact that both the undergrad and grad programs are offered online offers a ton of flexibility and had been a huge asset to me. As an undergrad student I valued being able to have access to my professors in a classroom setting, but the online format of my graduate program has allowed me to complete my coursework a little more on my time, allowing me to fit it in my busy schedule.

Tell us about your experience as a graduate teaching assistant.
One thing that WOU prides itself on, and something that I appreciated in my undergrad, is that you’re being taught be certified professors. Because of that I usually only teach when professors are unable to make it for their classes on rare occasion. My work usually consists of grading papers and assisting the staff during their office hours with whatever tasks they may have for me.

Last but not least, what makes WOU fun?
The people. The most fun part of Western Oregon University is by far the people there. Whether it be students or faculty, you just get a feeling that you belong. The friendships I have made at Western are ones that will last a lifetime. Western Oregon has a staff that makes you feel like they care about your success and are interested not only in you doing well in class but in your professional career after WOU as well.