In the real world, experience matters. In the classroom, real-world experience matters.
“Having worked in two different states in two completely different environments, I’ve seen the urban issues as well as the rural issues,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley says on teaching students about the causes of crime and how to deal with it. “I bring to the class real-life examples of how this causation works. I can render some fact-based opinions as opposed to anecdotal or strictly text book opinions on things and I can give real-world examples.”
With twelve academic centers, hundreds of online courses, and programs designed specifically for businesses and high schools, it’s well understood that CCV serves the communities of Vermont in many ways. But what some may not realize that CCV’s faculty bring community expertise into the classroom to enrich the student experience, and Hanley is just one example of that.
Hanley, who teaches criminal justice and terrorism courses at the College’s Middlebury and St. Albans academic centers, brings a lot to the table for his students to feast on. Thirty-nine years ago he started out as a patrol officer in Wallingford, Connecticut, a town situated between Hartford and New Haven. He climbed the ranks to detective and then oversaw the department’s eleven-strong detective force, all the while investigating everything from shootings to sexual assaults to homicides. In 1991, after working a homicide case with the Vermont State Police, Hanley found out about the chief of police position in Middlebury, and shortly thereafter he moved to the Addison County town and settled in on the force.
Since then Hanley has seen his share of crime in Vermont, noting that while property crimes seem to be less frequent, he and his officers are seeing more violent crime and more crimes associated with mental health crises. His experiences, and those of his colleagues, are what he presents to students as learning scenarios.
“This past fall in the terrorism course I brought an acquaintance of mine who used to be the CIA station chief in Beirut, Lebanon,” Hanley said. “When we talk about the Middle East, he brings real-life experience about what is going on in the Middle East. Those are the kind of things students aren’t going to get out of a textbook or from a normal teacher or even from me, but I can bring that. These are colleagues; these are people that I work with all the time.”
It’s that expertise and those connections to expertise within the community that really makes for stellar classes and learning opportunities for students, says St. Albans Academic Coordinator Kathi Rousselle. And she’d know – Rousselle has been hiring faculty at CCV for thirty eight years.
“It’s huge,” she says of the impact that quality, experienced faculty members have on students. “They not only get the book learning, but they hear about what’s happening in the real world directly from instructors who are working there. And students love that, it just brings it all together for them.”
Rousselle says for CCV faculty members, it’s about helping students better themselves through education. She says that nearly all CCV faculty members have careers that they’re devoted to and teach classes for the reward of seeing students grow, learn, and succeed over the course of a semester or years. CCV instructors, she says, are highly qualified professionals who bring expertise in their field and knowledge of the workplace into the classroom every time they teach.
“All of our faculty approach teaching in terms of trying to instill in students what it’s like out in the work force, both in the discipline they’re teaching and also in areas such as workplace ethics,” Rousselle said. “That’s the larger piece they try to instill in our students.”
For Hanley, that’s certainly the case. He said many of his students come to his classes with an interest in the criminal justice field that is often defined in part by the media. Think NCIS, CSI, or any of the multitudes of criminal justice shows that air on television most nights of the week.
As he sees it, part of his job as a criminal justice professional and as a teacher is to broaden students’ understanding of what working in these fields can be like in reality. To do so, he ensures that students understand that the field encompasses more than they might think at first, and the system as a whole includes law enforcement personnel, legal defense work, advocacy efforts, and more. And while he accomplishes this by drawing on his own lifetime of experience in the field, he’s adamant that he’s not there to influence students’ decisions in any direction.
“I try to provide them information and awareness of what is out there,” Hanley said. “The choices are theirs, but I want to provide them a knowledgeable base to make choices. If they have questions, they can ask me ‘what is it like to do this or to do that?’ Careers in criminal justice are pretty much influenced by popular media. I’m not popular media so I can give them insight on what it’s like or what they do or what the career is.”
The more real-world experiences he can bring into the class, the better the outcome for students, Hanley said. Take for example his emergency planning course. During the course, students not only learn about what makes up a typical emergency plan, Hanley has them look at their home towns and create a customized emergency plan for their town based on available resources and needs. And while they’re only exercises, Hanley says, they’re informed by real-life situations and real-world scenarios, which results in strong student engagement.
“When we look at the student evaluations, the one thing they like are the current examples of what’s going on today in the real world, as opposed to just looking at the theoretical or academic view of things,” Hanley said. “We give them both. The thing we like to do with these students is open their minds and let them hear all sides of an issue.”