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Faculty Spotlight - Melissa Inglis

Melissa Inglis

Faculty Spotlight - Melissa Inglis

April 1, 2024

by Michael Mahaffey

Melissa Inglis is an OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies faculty member, leading the college’s criminal justice degree completion program. She joined OU in the summer of 2023.

How long have you worked for PACS?

I’ve been with PACS since August 1, 2023. My official title is associate professor and lead faculty in criminal justice, primarily over adult degree completion.

Tell us a little more about your education, professional background and experience, as well as what you do outside of teaching for PACS.

I received my bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology from OU in 2008. Then, I went on to the University of Central Oklahoma to get my master’s degree in criminal justice administration (2011), and I went to the University of New Haven in Connecticut to get my Ph.D. in criminal justice (2018). My areas of focus were corrections, specifically prison victimization and prison violence, along with victimology.

After my undergraduate degree, I went to work for the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office. I soon realized I wanted to get my master’s degree. Getting a Ph.D. wasn’t really a goal of mine in the beginning. I saw myself working in law enforcement. Sheriff’s departments tend not to have degree incentives, and there is less focus on higher education in sheriff’s departments in general compared to city departments, so I really saw a need for training and education. I knew that a bachelor’s degree wasn’t going to be enough to do the kinds of things I wanted to do in my career. It was during my master’s degree that I really saw the potential to educate people who were working in the criminal justice system and to do research to improve the criminal justice system.

Even when I was pursuing my Ph.D., I didn’t know I was going to teach. I definitely saw myself training people, but more so on the policy side of things and doing research professionally. I taught classes while I was working on my Ph.D., and I fell in love with it.

After I moved back to Oklahoma after my Ph.D., studying law enforcement kept calling me back. Now, I study rural law enforcement and rural crime with an emphasis on drug policy. I still work with the correctional population teaching classes in prison. Outside of my work here at OU, I will be teaching in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in the fall.

Outside of teaching, I’m currently writing a book about rural law enforcement and crime in Oklahoma. That takes up a lot of the spare time I have. I love hiking. I’ll talk to anyone all day about it. I like being out in nature. I like fishing. If it’s outside, I love it. I also jog about 20 miles a week.

What is your favorite thing about being an instructor at OU?

The desire the students have to learn. I love integrating the work experience of the individuals in my classes into the class itself. Even those who don’t have experience in criminal justice, say someone is switching careers, it’s that desire to learn at a different level because there is an appreciation of the information and synthesizing it and taking a critical look at it and having opinions that are backed by experience. They typically do take the time to synthesize the information and put forth a real opinion.

What is your favorite course to teach?

I really enjoy teaching theory classes. I think it helps students understand the broader context of crime. It’s one of my favorites because it gives students the flexibility to interpret behavior in a way they don’t get to in other classes. It really gives students a way to apply what they’re learning to real-world cases.

I also really enjoy teaching about drugs in society because drugs impact the criminal justice system in such a profound way. I think when students learn about the impact of drugs on society and behavior, and they understand addiction in a different way, they begin to understand criminal behavior in a different way.

Victimology is my other favorite. I think in the criminal justice system, we spend too much time focusing on the offender and not enough time focusing on the victim. Victims often get overlooked in the criminal justice system. We focus so much on systems, corrections, policing and the courts that we don’t take a deeper dive into looking at the victims and how they interplay in the criminal justice system. Something we talk about in the class is how to assist victims of a crime.

Is there a student or class that has influenced you or made an impact on your life in any way?

I’ve changed how I teach so much over the past seven years just because of the interactions I’ve had with students. Coming up with a specific example is difficult. My teaching experience has primarily been online, so to pinpoint one thing is tough.

What advice do you have for adult students returning to school?

In my initial correspondence with students, I tell them communication is key. If they’re struggling with something, communicate that. Everything is better with open communication. Communication and organization are the absolute keys to success in online courses because we’re not able to casually see each other and check in. Sending an email to let me know they’re struggling keys me in to check in and make sure they’re doing okay.

What is your favorite thing about teaching adults?

Having students who can bring that real-world experience into the classroom and apply theory to those real-world scenarios and say in discussions, ‘This is what I did, and this is what I could do better after taking this class,’ are priceless experiences, not just for adult learners, but also your more traditional students who are getting mentorship from more than just the professor. I think a lot of our adult learners who are already working in the field are able to learn things and demonstrate their knowledge through this really high-level Bloom’s taxonomy, where they’re able to synthesize all of their experiences, all of their knowledge, and they’re getting to present that and educate everyone in the class. It’s a reflection process for them, too, rather than just reading the textbook.

What are the challenges and opportunities that come with teaching courses online?

One thing that’s both a challenge and an opportunity is having a mix of adult learners and traditional college students. Neither group wants to learn from a long lecture anymore. I was brought up in a culture of long lectures, but most of my students don’t learn how I learned, so it’s challenging to come up with unique ways to try to educate them and measure the learning to see if they’re really learning what we’re setting out to teach them. They’re also learning from each other. They’re not just hearing the war stories of their professor. They’re also getting to learn from their peers. It’s a unique thing we have going on here.

The students we tend to get in the degree completion program are primarily law enforcement professionals. The interdisciplinary part is what’s appealing to them. They want to take a conflict resolution course that isn’t exclusively a criminal justice course. They appreciate getting to take leadership and management courses that aren’t exclusive to criminal justice. Not only are they working with different departments, but they’re working with the court system and DHS. They’ve always been interdisciplinary in nature, and this program really addresses that.

What kind of experience do you want students to have in your courses?

I want students to see their education as a collaborative effort. I want them to come in feeling like an equal. I don’t want them to think, ‘I have to do everything this professor says.’ I want to change my courses to meet the needs of students. If they don’t think a certain part of the curriculum is important, we can change that. If there’s something they want to explore, we can add that to the course. That’s key for me. I really think that education is a dialogue and a collaboration.

One of the things I try to do is help students understand other people and have empathy. I think that’s one of the keys to success in the criminal justice system, especially for our frontline responders. If you can attach emotion to a topic, you’re much more likely to understand it and retain it. It imprints in your memory in a different way if you attach emotion to it. Whenever we talk about these topics in criminal justice, we attach a story to them, a face, a person. It really changes the way we view the criminal justice program.

Criminal justice is ever-changing, and it’s crucial that they keep up with current events and what’s changing in laws. I want them to be able to make informed opinions and to know where to go to find the information to form their opinions on something. I want them to have that breadth of knowledge to know they need to go to multiple sources to form an opinion on something.

What do you do in your courses to encourage students to engage with you and each other? How important is it that they develop a sense of camaraderie/community with each other?

I think that depends on the student. I have students who are busy, and they don’t want to correspond or to have to connect like that, and just doing the weekly discussions is enough connection for them. I have other students who need that sense of connection with other students, so to me, it’s really individualized. That flexibility and being able to change your course to meet the needs of that student are what online courses are all about. It’s not crucial to me that they interact in that way if it’s not conducive to their education.

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