Alisha Bonislawski, age 22, is a student on the Criminal Justice (CJ) associate degree program at our Citrus Heights campus. Designed to meet the demands of law enforcement agencies, and private investigation and security firms, the program can teach students the skills required for most entry-level positions in the criminal justice system.
Is Carrington your first college experience Alisha?
I went to a local community college for a while to study Anthropology. I took three semesters, but it just wasn’t something that was going to pan out. I loved the subject, but I had to fight to get into some classes. Not being able to get into core classes that you need really does extend your time in college.
Plus, to be successful in anthropology, to make any kind of good money, you have to travel a lot and I have a three year old son – Justin. He was just a baby back then so I wasn’t sure how a career with travel was going to work out. I had a real interest in criminal justice, so I decided that’s what I would pursue.
Where did that interest in criminal justice come from?
I’ve always been really interested in law enforcement, mostly K9 Units. My dad and I used to go to air shows; I would sit and talk with K9 officers who would come to do demonstrations with their dogs. There was also a car show put on by the Sacramento Sheriff’s K9 Department; they’d do a demonstration and allow kids to come and meet the dogs …it basically started from there. I’ve always enjoyed watching law enforcement, any kind of agency, in their vehicles doing their jobs. I’ve also done a few ride-alongs and that confirmed that this is the career I wanted to pursue.
So how far into the Criminal Justice program are you?
About 10 months; I started in May 2013, and I graduate in July this year. I’m definitely excited!
Why was it important for you to go back to school?
Because of my son – a lot of my choices now are to make sure that I have a good career set up, and a good future for Justin. I want to set a good example about the importance of having a good education – he can pursue whatever he wants to pursue, but he has to have a good education behind him.
So what direction do you hope your career path takes?
My end goal is to get into the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I like to fish and I like to hunt, and a lot of my family is into hunting and fishing too. My interest is in conservation; as hunters and fishermen we need to be able to conserve resources, so that future generations can enjoy what we do today. But Fish & Wildlife only open the application process for one month a year; it’s very competitive.
So in the short term I need to get some experience and start paying some bills, so I’m working on getting my Guard Card to get me into security initially, which looks really good on a resume. Then I can start applying to other agencies, like CHP or Sacramento Police Department, and hopefully move on to Fish & Wildlife in three to five years.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned on the course so far?
That’s a hard one – there’s so much to it. But probably everything to do with crime scene investigation – like blood splatter labs. That’s definitely been enjoyable. Another highlight is the current course we’re doing; it’s called ‘Careers in Criminal Justice’ – it gives you the broad spectrum of what a CJ degree means, and the opportunities that are out there.
When I went into the program, I just thought it was for ‘law enforcement’, but there are so many other careers than can open up if you have this degree. That’s been a real eye-opener for me; and if I was to go on to get a bachelor’s, it’s amazing just how many more opportunities there are on a whole new level in the criminal justice field.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about yourself in the last 10 months?
You know I definitely had some struggles going into this; I didn’t know if I was going to be able to deal with the things that law enforcement deal with. Like California Highway Patrol having to handle traffic accidents or police officers dealing with domestic violence cases. I really had to sit down and think – “Am I going to be able to control myself in situations that the average person should never have to see?”
Honestly, it took me a couple of months to figure out that this is definitely what I want to do – I want to be able to step in and help people, potentially save a life. It was a journey that I had to take before I realized that yes, I would be able to handle those situations.
Tell me three things you wish you knew when you started the program.
- As I mentioned before, one of the biggest things is I wish I’d known just how many more opportunities there are out there when you have a degree in Criminal Justice – there are so many different options.
- I didn’t realize how much writing is involved in law enforcement – we really work on that a lot. If you can’t write a report then you’re not good to anyone in the law enforcement field.
- It also surprised me how much you need to learn about the codes and ethics of the court system; you almost have to think like a Defense Attorney/Public Defender yourself when you step into a courtroom.
What was the biggest thing you wanted to change about yourself during the program?
I wanted to make sure I did the very best I could… I was a good student in high school, but you know it’s high school, so I definitely did slack off a bit in my freshman and sophomore years. But this time I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete this program all the way through with good grades – and basically take away as much as I can from this experience.
What’s the single biggest piece of advice you’d give to students just starting out?
I’m a student mentor for the Criminal Justice program, so I help new students that come into our program all the time. I would just say really concentrate on getting your work done on time, and if you have any problems, ask because a closed mouth will not get fed! Since day one, I’ve asked questions on anything that I have an issue with, or anything that I think could be expanded on, as far as the discussion goes. It really does help, because the discussion opens up many new perspectives on the field in general.
So with a three year old, you must have a good support network?
I do, I’m very lucky. I’m at school from 9am to Noon and I work as a receptionist in the corporate office of a video game and DVD distribution company from 12.30pm till 5pm, so I’m on the go all day! My son is in pre-school (Monday through Wednesday) and my boyfriend, Colton, picks him after work before I get home in the evening. And on Thursdays and Fridays my mom has him. My colleagues at work are very supportive too; I really look forward to going to work every day.
Let’s say you get an unexpected afternoon off; what would you do with that time?
I have two Labrador Retrievers that absolutely love the water and I live ten minutes walk from a lake here in Orangevale. So I’d take my dogs down to the lake and let them swim, and I’d fish. I’m definitely an ‘outdoorsy’ person, I love nature. Walking around a forest for hours is a big stress reliever for me.
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