Alyssa Belskis visiting American University

Combining Exceptional Students and Quality Programming

With commencement on the horizon, two Administration of Justice students show the campus that possibilities abound with hard work and determination

By: Rachel Olszewski

At the start of the 2016-17 academic year, neither Alyssa Belskis nor Jeff Carter, both students in the Administration of Justice program, were considering graduate school. Now, with commencement on the horizon in two weeks, both Alyssa and Jeff have been accepted into graduate programs at American University and the University of Arkansas Little Rock, respectively.

“I could not be more proud of Alyssa or Jeff,” explains Rick Dierenfeldt, Assistant Professor in the Administration of Justice program. “A short 9 months ago, neither was considering graduate school or participating in research. By next year, Jeff will be a published author in the field of criminology and criminal justice and is now forced to make a decision between accepting an assistantship in a graduate program or a career in law enforcement. Alyssa was forced to decide between funded offers at multiple ranked graduate programs. These are great ‘problems’ to have.”

Carter has been admitted into the Criminal Justice graduate program at University of Arkansas Little Rock (UALR). Should he choose to pursue his graduate studies there, Jeff will be working closely with Dr. Timothy C. Brown, a well-published and respected qualitative researcher in the areas of race and crime and rural sociology/criminology.

“The driving force behind graduate school for me is my interest in the field of research,” states Carter. “Graduate school provides me with the ability to research fields of study that I enjoy. I like to look at demographics for the most part such as: race, gender, location, and so on. The ability to work with individuals who are in the criminal justice field provides me the opportunity to make change to real-world problems by researching issues our law enforcement and politicians are currently facing.”

Carter’s current plan is to go into the law enforcement field prior to graduate school.

“I am looking to become either state or municipal law enforcement, and obtain my Master’s Degree while working in the field,” explains Carter. “My reasoning for this is because I would get a first-hand experience of the criminal justice field so I have a better understanding of the real world problems they have on a day to day basis.”

Jeff Carter, a four time PSUAC All-Conference golfer

Jeff Carter showcasing his skills as a student athlete for the Penn State Wilkes-Barre men's golf team

Image: Penn State

In his time at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Carter, an accomplished student athlete, has been a three year baseball starter and a four year golfer, three of which he served as team captain. During his time as an athlete, Carter was a PSUAC All-Conference golfer four years running, a PSUAC Academic All-Conference golfer for four years, a PSUAC Academic All-Conference baseball player in 2015-16, and was the golf team MVP for three years. Carter is also a tournament and team golf medalist.  

“One of the strengths of our academic programs is the ability to develop close working relationships with our students which affords us the chance to advise our students not only in terms of their course work and degree plan, but for the opportunities that await them after graduation,” says Dierenfeldt. “Working with Jeff and Alyssa to identify graduate programs that were good fits for them, to tailor their application materials, and to see funded offers from prestigious graduate programs has been such a rewarding experience for me as a faculty member.”

Belskis’ post graduate path looks a little different. She was accepted into the Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy graduate program at American University (AU) and was included in the program’s “elite cohort of Top Prospects,” receiving a funded offer as a graduate student. Belskis was also accepted into the graduate program in International Security at George Mason University, but after campus visits she indicated that AU felt like home.

“I’m excited to be moving to an amazing city filled with so much history and importance, while attending a fairly prestigious school that offers endless opportunities,” Belskis states. “Washington, D.C. is probably my favorite place in the whole country, and not only is it beautiful in and of itself, but American University's campus is gorgeous, as well. This will be my first time moving away from home to go to school, which is extremely exciting, and after I graduate from American University, I will be staying in D.C. to pursue my career. It's a big move, and it's pretty scary, but I am so ready for the challenge!”

Belskis’ career plans include counterterrorism with several large government agencies on her prospect list.

“I would love to work with the CIA, but working with Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, etc. would be awesome, too! As long as I'm helping innocent people, and using what I learned in school along the way, I will be happy,” explains Belskis.

Both Belskis and Carter believe that the Administration of Justice program and its supporters are the reason they are so adequately prepared for their future endeavors.

“Penn State Wilkes-Barre has given me a new perspective on learning, especially in my last year,” expresses Carter. “Over the past two semesters I have worked with Rick [Dierenfeldt], through classes, an in progress research study, and on a personal level. He has been the driving force for preparing me for graduate school and opening my interests to the fields of research and criminology.”

Belskis echos this statement, “The biggest push I had for graduate school was Rick. Before he joined the Penn State Wilkes-Barre family, I knew for a fact that I wanted, and would need, to go to graduate school at some point. However, I did not have the resources or information to know when I was going to go, where I was going to go, what program I wanted to go for, or even how to start the process. He kept me sane with reassurances after every mental breakdown I had due to being so overwhelmed with not only my current schooling, but my future schooling. He has also been one of my biggest supporters, and he has been there to celebrate each one of my successes.”

Dierenfeldt credits the strength of the Administration of Justice program with the students’ successes, “A good comprehensive program should prepare students for a variety of post-baccalaureate possibilities. Every undergraduate should be so fortunate as to leave their program with real options. What Alyssa and Jeff accomplished this year certainly speaks to their work ethic and drive, but I believe it also illustrates the quality of our academic programming. We have exceptional students and when you combine that with a comprehensive curriculum and personalized advising, these are the outcomes that are possible.”