Brevard College criminal justice students get real world experience while learning theory

Tim Powers, coordinator of Brevard College's criminal justice program provides students hands-on experience in scenarios they may face in real-life terrorist situations. Photo by Christie Cauble

As a young man in his 20s, Tim Powers wanted to serve as a state trooper. But when he explored the option, Powers was told he was too short and skinny.

“You can’t be a State Trooper,” an officer told him.

Powers took that as a challenge to prove the officer was wrong about him. “The last thing you do is tell me I can’t,” Powers says.

Thirty-nine years later, Powers is serving in law enforcement with a lead-by-example attitude: He is taking that attitude into the classroom at Brevard College and reinvigorating the college’s criminal justice program with fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

“Everything is a challenge. Every single day is a challenge,” he says. “For me, the challenge was to move higher and higher through the ranks and to put my philosophy and work ethic out on the other officers that work for me.”

Powers’ attitude is evident in the way he has revitalized BC’s criminal justice program. Since he began teaching in the fall of 2015, he has expanded the program’s size and revamped the style of learning to cater to Brevard’s signature experiential-teaching style.

The program has received attention from law enforcement, as well as praise from his students for Powers’ enthusiasm.

“He has, within one semester, almost doubled the size of our program,” says Abby Jay, a senior. “He’s really turning the program into a much more student-driven program.”

Powers has been in law enforcement since 1979. He has 33 years of experience and history working as a military police officer, with police and sheriff’s offices, with the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as serving as a SWAT officer. He earned a doctorate through the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, where he retired as a captain.

When Powers considered teaching at Brevard College, his original intention was to work as an adjunct professor. After reviewing the program, he agreed to take on a full-time position, with the intention of creating an experience for students that would be one of the strongest experiential learning opportunities the college has to offer.

Powers says he felt like the program was small and didn’t offer graduates as many opportunities as were available. “When a student graduated, he graduated with a degree in criminal justice, but he still couldn’t be a law enforcement officer; he wasn’t qualified,” Powers says.

Jay says that while Brevard College is experiential across all academic divisions, sometimes that can be difficult to demonstrate in a division like criminal justice. Powers, Jay says, has really tried to create opportunities for hands-on student-centered activities.

First-year students are required to go on a ride-along with the Brevard Police Department, spend time at the courthouse and local jail. In one of Powers’ recent classes, he rented paint-ball guns and took students to The Wilds camp in Brevard, in order to simulate a terrorism scenario. By the time students get to their senior year, depending on which track they have chosen, they are processing crime scenes and have been accepted into a police academy.

Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney instructs Brevard College students Monday in a simulation of a terrorist scenario. The students traveled to a local camp with rented paintball equipment as part of their criminal justice class. Photo by Joshua Cole
Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney instructs Brevard College students Monday in a simulation of a terrorist scenario. The students traveled to a local camp with rented paintball equipment as part of their criminal justice class. Photo by Christie Cauble

Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney became interested in attending Brevard’s criminal justice program when he saw the positive changes Powers had made to the program.

Mahoney grew up in Brevard and pursued his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at North Carolina State. But the large state school wasn’t the right fit for Mahoney, so he transferred to Asheville Buncombe Technical College, where he graduated with an associate’s degree in criminal justice.

Mahoney was offered a position with the Brevard Sheriff’s office in July of 1991 and has been working in law enforcement since then.

“I became impressed with how the criminal justice program was moving in that direction,” Mahoney said of the program’s hands-on style of learning.

After discussing with Powers his goal to get his bachelor’s degree, Mahoney enrolled at Brevard College in the fall of 2015.

“I’m a pretty competitive person, and I’m a firm believer in finishing what you started,” Mahoney says. “Now, I’m in this unique role of being involved in the experiential learning aspect from two sides: I’m able to offer (my) experience from a 24-and-a-half-year career, but at the same time, I’m still learning some things. I think that’s always critical in any kind of position, but especially public service.… Always learn about yourself, your job, the people you serve. I think that’s critical in public service.”

When Powers began at Brevard College, one of the first things he did was reach out to Mahoney and look for potential partnerships between the criminal justice program and law enforcement. The two began exploring various ways they could make the program more experiential.

“He’s really put the whole program in the hands of the students,” Jay notes. “If there’s something you want to learn how to do, we’ll do it.”

Powers says he worked out a deal with the Brevard police so that seniors could receive 12 credit hours while attending the town’s police academy and graduate as certified law enforcement officers with a bachelor’s degree.

The course at the police academy is taught over a six-month period. Of the three students who are enrolled in the academy, all three have received numerous job offers from law enforcement agencies across the Southeast. Five of Powers’ students have been accepted into the police academy for fall 2016.

Hunter Galloway graduated from the program in December and took a job in Greenville County, S.C. Powers says the recruiter in that area is so pleased with Galloway that he would like to recruit more students from Brevard.

Powers says that law enforcement is in desperate need of officers. He says he gets calls from across the Southeast looking for qualified applicants.

Powers isn’t only teaching criminal justice from the perspective of law enforcement. He has also set up another pathway for those interested in studying law. Lee Anne Mangone has a background working as an assistant U.S. district attorney and is an adjunct professor at the College. Mangone’s main area of expertise involves helping students understand how the court system works. In her Judicial Systems and Practices course, the final project will be a mock trial, with students serving as attorneys, witnesses and jurors. Students are currently preparing opening statements and closing arguments, as well as getting ready to cross-examine witnesses.

“I never had a chance to do this as an undergrad,” Mangone says.

She attended the highly regarded Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. Mangone says her hope is to bring her experiences from Emory to the undergraduate level. “Brevard has always had an excellent criminal justice program for many, many years,” Mangone says. “This is just adding another element that is a little bit more real-world and hands-on to improve upon what’s already a great program.”

Sophomore Erin Barr says Powers tailors information to each individual student and is always going out of his way to provide students with new opportunities.

As an exercise in writing policy, Barr and her fellow students recently spoke with local police and visited a traffic control point set up by Transylvania County. Afterwards, they presented their ideas to the county for a new traffic-control policy.

“We saw things up front that could have been better, and we incorporated those things into our policy,” Barr says.

Some of the policies Brevard students formulated have already been approved by the county.

Raheem Brown, a sophomore in the program, says Powers takes learning to the next level. Brown and his classmates have been working to also develop policies for Tampa, Fla. Powers helps students collect the necessary information to develop such policies through opportunities, such as supervised alcohol buys. Students organized an April 10 town hall meeting to discuss underage drinking. The meeting featured a guest speaker who lost a child in a drunk-driving accident six years ago.

One thing Brevard’s criminal justice program does well, says Mahoney, is teach both theory and practice.

“You have ample opportunities to put that theory into practice and get real-world experience in how the theory works. Anytime you can do that, it becomes less of a theory and more of a reality,” Mahoney says. “That connection is what turns out very good employees, very knowledgeable employees. Anytime we can increase our knowledge, we’re less likely to make a mistake or a misstep.”

Joshua Cole is a senior at Brevard College graduating in May.



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One thought on “Brevard College criminal justice students get real world experience while learning theory

  1. henry

    A very well written article by Joshua Cole of a very organized and real world focused criminal justice program. There are many criminal justice programs that are all about theory and research on crime, but fail students in never providing practical in the field experiences. Those students graduate without having a clue as to what they could and want to do with their education. Kudos to Brevard College and Powers.

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