Chief Whent, here riding his bike through the hills of Oakland to promote bicycle safety, says of UCI’s online M.A.S. program: “It was time well spent, especially for a working professional.” Courtesy of Oakland Police Department

Getting a leg up on the ladder of success

UCI’s online master’s degree in criminology, law & society draws raves, accomplished students

When Sean Whent wanted to advance his career in law enforcement, he considered pursuing a master’s degree in public administration or criminal justice. Then he learned of UC Irvine’s online program for a Master of Advanced Study in criminology, law & society. Intrigued, Whent attended a meet and greet event in Northern California in the summer of 2012 and came away convinced it was the right choice for him.

“It was time well spent, especially for a working professional,” said Whent, who was appointed Oakland’s chief of police in May 2014. He appreciated being able to take classes and study around his busy schedule while still being part of a cohort and establishing relationships with fellow students and professors.

Whent completed his capstone project on police deployment models and earned his degree in June 2014. “I think having the education does help people attain [high-level] jobs in law enforcement,” he said.

UCI’s program, founded in 2002 for full-time workers seeking to further their careers, was recently named the top online graduate criminal justice program in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This is the first year the publication has ranked online criminal justice programs, and UCI’s excelled in faculty credentials, admissions selectivity and student engagement.

Currently, 120 people with backgrounds in criminal justice, law and social services are enrolled. Since the program began, 256 students have earned M.A.S. degrees, with another 65 set to graduate in June. Teresa Dalton and George Tita, both faculty in criminology, law & society, co-direct the program.

Building relationships among students and alums is a priority, Dalton says. Annual events are held in the Bay Area and Orange County so that prospective enrollees can learn more about the degree and meet current students and alumni as well as professors and directors.

“Most of our students are working professionals who bring a wealth of practical experience to the program and learn about the theoretical groundwork from which their respective institutions evolved. For many, this has led to promotions and career advancements.” Dalton says. “They obtain specialized knowledge that helps them understand what they do in a different light.”

The program was conceived in the late 1990s, when then-University of California President Richard Atkinson called for campuses to increase their M.A.S. offerings. Such degrees are geared toward professionals, and Atkinson wanted to make a UC education accessible to working adults. The online format seemed like a great way to reach these types of students all over the state.

It was the UC system’s first online degree program, and student success stories include those of Allison Jacobs, a recognized law enforcement trainer and speaker who graduated in 2013 and Wendy Still ’08, chief adult probation officer for the city and county of San Francisco.

“The M.A.S. program provided me with a solid understanding of the criminal justice system continuum, including the social and human elements,” Still says. “It also enabled me to develop research skills that improved my job performance and effectiveness.”