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How earning an online degree helped one state trooper prepare for the future

Lt. Julie Scribner of the Vermont State Police earned her bachelor’s degree to get ready for a promotion and is working on her master’s to plan for a career after retirement


Sponsored by Norwich University

By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

A degree often serves as a stepping stone for a promotion or other career advancement. That’s certainly the case for Lt. Julie Scribner of the Vermont State Police.

Lt. Julie Scribner of the Vermont State Police didn’t have a specific promotion in mind when she started the online criminal justice program at Norwich University, but she wanted to be prepared in case the opportunity presented itself. (image/Norwich)
Lt. Julie Scribner of the Vermont State Police didn’t have a specific promotion in mind when she started the online criminal justice program at Norwich University, but she wanted to be prepared in case the opportunity presented itself. (image/Norwich)

A detective sergeant when she started her undergraduate degree, she became eligible for promotion by earning her diploma, and she is now a lieutenant and director of internal affairs for her department.

While Scribner didn’t have a specific job in mind when she started the online criminal justice program at Norwich University, she wanted to be prepared in case the opportunity presented itself.

“It was more about wanting to make sure that whatever job I’m doing is something that A) I’m competent at and B) I enjoy,” she said. “So if a lieutenant’s position came open that I was interested in, I wanted to be able to put in for it. Otherwise, I would be completely locked out of it without a degree.”

Scribner chose Norwich University for two reasons. First, she had started as a cadet at Norwich after high school but didn’t finish her degree, and second, the school had recently launched its online criminal justice program, making it possible for Scribner to earn her degree while working full-time as a trooper.

GAINING JOB SKILLS, LIFE SKILLS

Scribner says she gained a lot of useful on-the-job knowledge from the courses, but the program also helped her become better organized.

As she was working on the capstone research project to wrap up her degree, she became the lead officer on a homicide case, working up to 90 hours a week while trying to finish her school work. It was then that she realized how much the program had taught her about organization and planning ahead.

“I was able to do that because of the previous two years that I’d been taking online classes at Norwich. I knew how important it was to prioritize things, to not wait until the last minute,” she said. “I used to be one of the people who would procrastinate a little bit, and I don’t procrastinate now.”

Scribner says the program also helped hone her writing skills, which have proved invaluable on the job.

Most people who want to become a police officer aren’t doing it because they love writing reports, she says, but report writing is an integral part of the job.

“My reports are more polished and professional than they were prior to those courses,” she said.

She also found the statistics course to be surprisingly useful and informative in her efforts as a recruiter for the state police, particularly when it comes to recruiting and testing for women and minorities.

Overall, Scribner feels that her studies helped develop her critical thinking skills, fundamental for any investigator.

“The classes helped me become more open-minded because I learned more about some of the difficulties that people face and how and why they struggle with overcoming some of those issues,” she said. “Certainly, my critical thinking skills were developed through my Norwich education. The concepts I was taught helped me to more rationally analyze situations and think in a less biased manner.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Scribner graduated with honors and received a scholarship toward earning her master’s degree, which she will finish in 2019. This time she’s preparing not for a promotion but for a second career after she retires from the state police.

“I’m going to be able to retire in just under four years,” she said, “and at 50 years old, I still have plenty of time and want to have another career in something that’s meaningful work.”

Now, Scribner is working toward a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management. She currently serves as president of Vermont Women in Law Enforcement and expects that her core course work will prove helpful in leading the organization.

She encourages her colleagues to consider earning a degree through Norwich’s online program and touts the small classes, one-on-one support and networking opportunities.

“I think the largest class I had was maybe 10 people, so there’s really good opportunity to speak with the professors and have that one-on-one feeling with them,” she said.

She also says the professors and the university are willing to work with students in overcoming personal challenges to complete the program.

In fact, some of Scribner’s fellow students were pursuing their degrees while on active duty in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan, and she was impressed by how flexible the university was in supporting them.

“Everybody that I graduated had their own unique challenges, whether it was work or family, and they were trying to get through the program with these other adult life things going on,” she said.

NETWORKING BENEFITS

The online programs at Norwich culminate in a residency week, held each June, to bring the far-flung students together for networking and graduation ceremonies. Scribner appreciated the feeling of camaraderie from being able to spend some time with her classmates in person.

She says the networking opportunities available through the program have been abundant and valuable.

“Norwich University has an extremely active and vibrant alumni community,” she said. “When you go to events, nobody looks down on you because you have an online degree as opposed to getting it the traditional way. You are part of the Norwich community, period. Since graduating, I’ve been involved in putting together an internship program between the Vermont State Police and Norwich students, and I am hoping to be involved in the school’s new mentor program in 2018.”

REPUTATION MATTERS

When pursuing a degree, especially online, it’s critical to do your homework and choose an institution that is reputable and accredited.

“There’s so many online programs and so many places that you can choose from, but Norwich has an excellent reputation for their education, not only in the state but nationwide,” said Scribner. “To me, having a Norwich education means a lot more than having one from some random school that specializes in online classes and you’re really not getting a quality education. Could I have gotten a degree through them maybe for less money and probably for a lot less work? Yes, but I have pride in this degree.”

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