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A Conversation with Marshall Jones, Director of Online Programs

The clues to Marshall Jones’ eventual career path could be found in an aptitude test he completed as a high school junior.

“I scored high on two areas: law enforcement and teaching,” he recalled.

After a four-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, Jones joined the Palm Bay (Florida) Police Department, where he was an officer, sergeant and police academy instructor while also serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

He transitioned to a career in higher education in the late 1990s with his appointment as coordinator of the Forensic Psychology program at Florida Institute of Technology. For the past decade, he has also been Director of Online Programs in Florida Tech’s College of Psychology and Liberal Arts, teaching courses in crime and psychology.

“Online education provides working professionals, especially public servants with various work hours, the opportunity to maximize the time they have to focus on classes,” said Jones, who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees as he rose through the law enforcement ranks.

We spoke with Jones about the qualities of great leaders, the value of a college education for law enforcement professionals and the role of forensic psychology in the criminal justice system.

Q. Can you tell us about your background and how you developed an interest in law enforcement?

It was a childhood goal that was reinforced with an aptitude test in my junior year of high school. I scored high on two areas: law enforcement and teaching. I joined the Marines after high school and the police force after my enlistment. I used my GI Bill® to earn my associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working, and advancing, in my law enforcement career. I now find myself in a second career in higher education where I continue to work in law enforcement as a researcher and consultant. Blue is in my blood; it is part of who I am.

Q. What makes Florida Tech’s 100% online degree programs a good fit for working professionals?

I did not have online options when I was working toward my degrees as a practitioner. I attended traditional classes for my associate’s degree. I found a bachelor’s that catered to working professionals with classes at night and on weekends. My graduate degree in criminal justice was a practitioner program for criminal justice professionals done on campus two weeks each semester. All my experience as a student was face-to-face.

Online education provides working professionals, especially public servants with various work hours, the opportunity to maximize the time they have to focus on classes. You do not have to drive to campus or work in the logistics associated with attending a traditional program. While it may be a little more challenging to meet and network with classmates, it is not impossible. Many online students develop friendships with classmates and it is always great to see folks meet in person at graduation.

Q. Your work in the public and private sectors has focused on law enforcement recruitment and training. What benefits do you believe college-educated law enforcement officers bring to the nation’s criminal justice system?

I have been asked for decades if I believe a college degree will make someone a better cop. My answer is always, “It depends.” It depends on if the cop seeking a degree is working to earn a degree and the education that comes with it. In that case, that individual will hone their research, writing and problem-solving skills, which are all critical to any cop’s “tool box” for success. Cops, or anyone, who simply want to obtain a degree and go through the motions – often the bare minimum – will likely continue in their careers status quo.

From a more pragmatic perspective, many law enforcement agencies pay more to those possessing college degrees. Many agencies also require some level of college for promotions. The profession of law enforcement continues to evolve. As the communities become more technological and complex, police must adapt and catch up. Education is the key to keeping pace.

Q. How can a college education help prepare law enforcement officers for leadership roles?

A good leader knows that they cannot possibly know everything. The key is quickly assessing a problem or situation and knowing where to find and assess information quickly. That information may be in the form of a person with expertise from the team or leader’s network or it may be locating a policy manual or empirical research. A college education exposes people to different disciplines, ways of thinking and various methods of processing and using information.

Q. What are some of the qualities that make a superior leader?

I consider myself a student of leadership. I am also a critic of the various definitions and types of leadership. The simplest operationalization is genuine influence with others. Rank does not matter. What matters most is that a person invests in, and cares about, the people he or she works with, all while being genuine and true to themselves.

Q. How have advances in the field of forensic psychology impacted the criminal justice system?

Relatively speaking, forensic psychology is a new academic discipline. As the discipline evolves and becomes more multidisciplinary in its approaches, it offers the justice system an array of resources:

  • Recruiting, selecting, training, promoting and retaining police officers is one resource an industrial-organizational psychologist would contribute in a forensic context.
  • Clinical psychology offers many applications ranging from psychological evaluations for police applicants, working with those incarcerated in jails and prisons, and conducting mental health, competency and risk evaluations for the court system.
  • Social psychologists explore topics such as eyewitness issues, victim testimony and jury decision-making.
  • Experimental psychologists provide methodological and statistical support for agencies looking for help researching applied problems in the field.

    As academic-practitioner partnerships become more commonplace, the advancements expand.

    GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

    Want to learn more about Florida Tech’s fascinating faculty? Check out more Faculty Interviews here.

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