80 students attend SMC Human Services Day

Published 2:05 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2022

DOWAGIAC — Eighty high school students from Covert, Hartford and the Allegan County Area Technical and Education Center attended Southwestern Michigan College’s Human Services Day Jan. 28.

ACATEC students visited from William Baker’s criminal justice program.

Students learned about opportunities SMC offers in CJ, education, social work and psychology.

Associate Professor Don Ricker directs the award-winning CJ program SMC introduced in 2013. The former detective’s students are employed with the Chicago and Indianapolis police departments, Michigan State Police, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Berrien County Juvenile Center and courts in Berrien and Cass counties, including a probation officer.

Ricker grew up in Bay City and attended Delta College for his 1983 associate degree. He lived in Houston, Texas, during six years (1985-1991) as a police officer and detective. While in Texas, Ricker earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from the University of Houston.

From there, he spent five years (1995-2000) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, taught at Saginaw Valley State University from 2004-2010, taught sociology and criminal justice at Columbus State Community College in Ohio from 2010-2014 and then moved to Dowagiac and SMC.

SMC offers two tracks: generalist, and corrections, probation and parole.

“Both tracks offer an opportunity to earn bachelor’s degrees through Ferris State University while staying at SMC because we’re partners. It’s the same degree you would earn if you went to Big Rapids. Ferris has one of the best programs in the country.”

‘[CJ]is a very good degree for law enforcement, whether you want to be a deputy sheriff, state trooper or in federal law enforcement (FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, among others); courts, if interested in attending law school; and corrections and victim services,” Ricker said. “We do a lot of hands-on learning. Twelve students went to the October 2019 regional conference in Minnesota to compete with chapters from Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Iowa,” bringing home seven trophies, including a large Best Spirit Award for the top attitude and sportsmanship among all teams.

After achieving gold at its fifth straight state SkillsUSA in Grand Rapids that spring, the program notched another achievement as the first Michigan community college with a Lambda Alpha Epsilon chapter. Sigma Mu Chi, or “SMC,” joined Michigan State University and Ferris with chapters of an organization founded in 1937 and headquartered in Sacramento, California.

Students practice processing crime scenes, making arrests and interviewing witnesses or crime victims for competitions and network with guest speakers during weekly Criminal Justice Club.

In three-person teams, “Students process crime scenes from beginning to end, collecting evidence, photographing, sketching and writing reports,” Ricker said. “We went to nationals twice. Students have finished as high as fourth in the nation.”

The club meets Thursdays at 4 p.m. in room 711 of the Foster W. Daugherty Building on the Dowagiac campus. Ricker also teaches at the Niles campus.

“Right now, careers in criminal justice are abundant, particularly law enforcement,” Ricker said. “I had five years of experience as a program coordinator for neglected and delinquent juveniles for Holy Cross Children’s Services. I designed treatment programs working with juvenile probation officers for kids referred to our agency.”

As a detective, he investigated burglaries to white-collar crime after starting as a patrolman.

“It’s fun and demanding, like putting a puzzle back together. You get into any criminal justice occupation because you want to help people, which is very rewarding when they’re in trouble. Criminal justice came out of sociology, and they overlap.”

“The two areas often work together,” Professor Christi Young agreed. Social work is similar to community policing, concerning itself with individuals, families, groups, communities and society as a whole in an effort to meet basic needs and enhance social functioning, self-determination, collective responsibility, optimal health and overall well-being.

Young holds a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, both from Western Michigan University. She was previously an enforcement caseworker with St. Joseph County Friend of the Court in Centreville.

Young also worked at Van Buren Community Mental Health in crisis stabilization for a six-bed residential center. She also talked about medical social workers based on personal experience with the premature birth of her son, Gunner.

Young, a first-generation student who changed majors three times, found her way to the classroom as a WMU graduate assistant.

“I helped teach classes and fell in love immediately with the college situation,” she said.