BGSU professor fosters student success through creation of the Criminal Justice Learning Community

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Fostering comprehensive student opportunities, a Bowling Green State University professor is helping criminal justice majors experience all the program has to offer through the creation of the Criminal Justice Learning Community (CJLC).

As part of the BGSU CJLC, students take cohort-style classes together with additional experiences outside of the classroom.

Catherine Pape, associate teaching professor of criminal justice, said one of the University’s program strengths is that it attracts students from all backgrounds and skill levels — and bringing students together as soon as they arrive on campus could lead to personal and professional success.

“In criminal justice, we get students from all across the board, so I had this idea to link some of our classes,” Pape said. “We get some really strong students and also others who need more help at first, so I wanted to find a way that we could link some courses together within our department. When we started it, I had no idea it would have grown into what it is today.”

What started with 30 students in the fall of 2020 now has more than 80 and serves as a key resource for criminal justice students navigating their way through the field.

Earlier this year, the Mid-American Conference selected Pape as the BGSU recipient of the MAC Outstanding Faculty Award for Student Success in recognition of her efforts within the criminal justice program.

Pape, also the director of the CJLC, said one of her goals as a BGSU faculty member is to show students that criminal justice has a wide range of career options.

By showing students the full gamut of criminal justice — from corrections to law enforcement to nonprofits to forensics — through trips and experiences outside of the classroom, Pape said students are able to make professional connections and refine what they want to do professionally during their undergraduate careers.

The CJLC cohort members also take a major-specific Life Design course during their first semester as freshmen, introducing them to a design-thinking framework that aids their career readiness and encourages them to try things early and often.

“The whole goal is to show them that criminal justice isn’t just what you see on TV — and we want to expose them to all the different things criminal justice has to offer,” Pape said. “They can sit and listen to lectures and take notes, but it takes actually engaging with the content to really learn it.

“I see a big change in our students who are in the learning community in terms of their growth and preparedness for internships.”

Tom Gorman, the assistant dean of Undergraduate Education and Student Services at BGSU, said part of a learning community’s strength is that students can make lasting connections, and Pape is uniquely suited to encouraging them along the way.

“It doesn’t take very long in the learning community for students to develop these social and professional affiliations, and Catherine is so good at helping them do that,” Gorman said. “The students respect her a lot, and she has the ability to relate to students as a professor they know cares about them.”

Gorman said that introducing criminal justice students to Pape during their first semester gives them a connection with a supportive faculty member with whom to collaborate on their journey as new college students.

“I think she is genuinely non-judgmental in a way that students know that they can be themselves,” Gorman said. “Even if things aren’t going well, they know they have a supportive person who will talk it over and help them make decisions.”

Pape said student readiness is a point of pride for the CJLC, which can be a key resource for students who might need extra coaching early in their academic careers.

Criminal justice faculty designed the learning community experience to help students find a pathway that fits them, from advising to the classes they take to the order in which they take them — all of which are designed to ensure student success.

“Some of the students who have the least likelihood of success prior to college become some of our highest achievers because of the purposefulness of the programming and the attention they get, which is so awesome to see,” she said.

“With the way my colleagues have helped me build this learning community, we’re very purposeful in everything that we do. We want them to be ready for the next step at every point in the journey.”

Updated: 08/16/2023 03:50PM