“I’d never done an independent study before, so it really took me a long time to think of what I wanted to do that was going to be something that I was actually interested in,” said Laura Clark, a non-traditional student from northern Wisconsin, who recently completed an independent study project for elective credit. As part of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice program, students have the opportunity to enroll in CRIMLJUS 7980 – Independent Study in Criminal Justice and complete a self-directed project over the course of a semester.
“I didn’t want to spend an entire semester writing a paper or doing a research project,” Clark said. “I wanted to try to make it something that was a little more hands-on.” Clark decided to make her project one that would benefit a non-profit program for at-risk teens that she had encountered through her previous employer. The program, Teen Care, works primarily with youth who have run away from home. Services include a youth crisis hotline, informal counseling, mediation sessions, and emergency placement in a group home.
As part of her project, Clark focused on updating and improving the Teen Care program’s policies by making them more efficient. She also worked on updating resources for staff, including the documents used by crisis hotline operators. Clark added additional relevant information on mental health issues and quick tips for dealing with callers, such as how to compose yourself when taking a serious call. In addition, she created a training video to streamline new employee training.
“The situation worked out really well,” said Clark, who found her regular classes to be a valuable resource. “The majority of youth-related classes have been really beneficial because I did take a lot of them when I was working with youth, so it was kind of neat to be able to learn it in the class and then directly apply it to what I was doing.”
Clark will graduate in May and hopes to work with at-risk youth or in victim services. Clark is also a veteran. She served six years in the National Guard and one year in the Army Reserve.