Love of Learning

Tom Shull, '82 Jail Administration

It wasn't until my senior year in high school when the realization hit me; I needed to decide what I was going to do when I grew up! Many of my friends had their careers and educational paths already mapped out. They knew what schools offered the best educational opportunities in their chosen fields; they knew where they were going to live; they had time-lines and bench marks established – they seemed to have it so together. I was not one of them.

After some career searching, I decided that a career in law enforcement seemed like an exciting opportunity. The prospect of moving away to a four-year university as a 17-year old college freshman, however, did not appeal to me at all. I discovered not only did KVCC offer a program in law enforcement, but they had just added a tracking program which would lead to state certification as a law enforcement officer (now the Regional Police Academy). The Criminal Justice program at Western Michigan University did not. As a student with academic promise, but a lack of focus, I decided the community college was the best fit for me.

I soon found a comfortable atmosphere at KVCC, which fostered my learning, with instructors who were passionate about teaching. The core program courses were exciting and sharpened my focus. I ended up graduating second overall in my class –first in firearms – and felt well prepared to start my career as a law enforcement officer. Look out world, here I come!

The next challenge was finding full-time employment. Here I am, a new graduate, with my certification, ready to face the world and finally done with school forever. But where do I start? I'm now a grown up 19-year old. The career center at KVCC was a great resource in helping me prepare my resume and locate potential jobs. I initially found employment as a part-time police officer and a full-time security officer until I reached the ripe old age of 21, when I found my first full-time job as a police officer.

My law enforcement career was all I expected it to be; freedom, yet responsibilities, meeting a wide variety of people, the occasional adrenaline rush, and the ability to make a difference in people's lives. I would have paid to do this job, yet here I was making a living fulfilling my dream. After several years of living the dream, my perspective began to change. Is this what I want to do for the rest of my career? What do I aspire to do? What do I need to do to accomplish my goals? It soon became evident that if I were to increase my chances of promotion to higher levels, I needed to further my education. In spite of my earlier thoughts that I was done with school forever, I found myself wanting (yes, wanting) to go back to school.

I enrolled at WMU in the public relations program. My reasoning was if I were to become disabled or if I chose to pursue another career outside of law enforcement, I wanted to ensure my chances of success. But life had changed. I was working shift work full-time, I had a wife now, and I had to pursue my education one class at a time, juggling work, family and school. I was rather anxious starting school at WMU. This was a "big" school. Would it be harder? Would I have the same level of success and enjoyment I found at the community college level? The answer was "yes". While the walls were different and the campus larger and more confusing, I found the same type of people willing to help me learn, peers willing to accept me as I am, and resources in place to help ensure my success. In 1988, after a long academic journey, I finally finished my Bachelor of Science degree. After several years of waking up in the middle of my sleep time, pulling all-nighters or coming into town on my days off to attend class, I was done with school forever!

Shortly after completing my degree, I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. As a sergeant, I was assigned as a commander of a patrol shift. Now I was responsible not only for myself and my actions, but for a whole shift of officers and their actions. I had to develop a much broader and detailed understanding of law enforcement operations, risk management, and implement those leadership skills I learned in school as leadership theory. This was quite a paradigm shift, but I soon adapted and came to learn how to be an effective shift supervisor. I was living the dream again and enjoying every minute of it. But I found myself asking the question again, "Is this what I want to do for the rest of my career"? I decided to advance to the command ranks for a new career challenge.

I was promoted to Lieutenant in 1998, commanding the Internal Affairs unit, crime laboratory and evidence units, and doing policy review and development for the agency. In 2000, I was promoted to Captain, and then transferred to the Staff Services Division as the Division Commander. Here I was tasked with new challenges of grant writing and administration, new product evaluation and acquisition and training. I also experienced the failure of my marriage and the challenges of our children living in different households. In 2003 I was selected to be the Commander of the Jail Division, and Jail Administrator. Since I knew little of being a jail administrator, I went back to school through the National Institute of Corrections and the American Jail Association.

In 2006 I was nominated to attend the prestigious FBI National Academy, in Quantico, Virginia. Only one-half of 1% of all law enforcement officers are ever afforded the opportunity to attend the National Academy. This was a personal challenge, as I now had the additional challenge of being a newlywed with a blended family of four young children, and being away for 11 weeks. While at Session 227 of the National Academy, I balanced a full class load of both undergraduate and graduate classes through the University of Virginia, learning about employment and legal issues, developing crisis management skills, and assorted management issues, and my family.

After graduation, I had to ask myself if I knew all that I needed to know to perform my job to the level I expected of myself. Back to school again! In 2007 I became a Certified Jail Manager and in 2010 I completed my Master of Business Administration degree. I was finally done with school forever!

What's next? What do I aspire to do now? I have been involved in the construction of a new $28 million juvenile home, and now tasked with the planning, development and construction of a $23.6 million jail expansion project. I have had the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with various consultants over a myriad of topics on these projects and have come to realize that I would like to share my acquired knowledge, experiences, and expertise with others to help them through their journeys. To better prepare myself for this next adventure – you guessed it, I am back in school pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration degree.

Here are some things I have learned beginning back at my early days at KVCC:

You can do anything you set your mind to, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There are tremendous resources available to you, one simply needs to reach out and grab them with both hands.

Tom Shull