The first graduates of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice program at The University of Texas-Pan American will participate in commencement ceremonies Saturday in the UTPA Fieldhouse.
Four students have completed the necessary requirements for the degree and are eligible to march with other master's and doctorate graduates at the 6 p.m. ceremony.
Initiated in fall 1998 with The University of Texas at Brownsville, the 36-hour program was created to meet the increasing demand in the Rio Grande Valley. Students must have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field, a grade point average of 2.75 in their last 60 hours of their undergraduate studies and a minimum score of 800 on the Graduate Record Examination.
"This degree has been a long time in coming, as we first started the idea about 10 years ago, but it took about eight years to get enough of a foundation to start," said Dr. Daniel Dearth, interim dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Department of Criminal Justice chair.
"This program is providing a mechanism for criminal justice professionals to get a master's degree while staying in the Valley."
According to Dr. Mark Dantzker, Department of Criminal Justice graduate program director, the program is averaging about 30 students. But he added that number could grow soon, as the first graduating class will increase the program's prominence.
"Any kind of graduate education in the Valley is a big plus," Dantzker said. "This helps our area tremendously, especially for those students already employed in the field and looking to improve their status."
Kelly Gray, a graduate assistant in the first graduating class, said the master's program was a "God-send." She received her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from UTPA in 1995, but many positions she inquired about required additional education.
Before the UTPA program, the only option available was Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. And for many students like Gray, the time and travel necessary were just too costly.
Fortunately, UTPA provided a better alternative with the initiation of its master's program.
"I wouldn¹t have gotten my master's if they hadn't started the program here," Gray said.
"It's basically been non-stop work. But I've learned a lot, and it opened up a lot of issues that aren't discussed in undergraduate courses."
The McAllen resident said she is looking forward to graduation.
"We have an excellent program, and the professors are wonderful," she said. "I think it has a lot of potential and hopefully, it will continue to grow."
For more information on the master's program in the Department of Criminal Justice, contact Dantzker at 956/381-2967.