Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

SMC Criminal Justice competing in Minnesota

10/09/2019 - 3pm
Left, front to back: Kara Safranek, Rocky Zendejas and Lindsey Laden. Right: front to back: Zachary Sackrider, Ray Vickery and Anthony Antao.

Twelve Southwestern Michigan College students travel to Minnesota for the Oct. 17-19 American Criminal Justice Association-Lambda Alpha Epsilon Region 6 conference, “Evolution of Gangs: From the Roaring ’20s to the 2020s.”

The conference takes place at Inver Hills Community College, Inver Grove Heights, in the St. Paul area. Region 6 encompasses Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Iowa.

After achieving gold at its fifth straight state SkillsUSA last spring in Grand Rapids, SMC’s criminal justice program notched another notable achievement April 22 by becoming the first Michigan community college with a Lambda Alpha Epsilon chapter.

Sigma Mu Chi, or “SMC,” joined Michigan State University and Ferris State University with chapters of the organization founded in 1937 and headquartered in Sacramento, Calif.

CJ majors can join the criminology/criminal justice organization to promote professional, academic and public awareness of criminal justice issues.

Kara Safranek of Watervliet was elected CJ Club president this fall, as well as honor society treasurer. She wants to continue to a bachelor’s degree, double major for her master’s degree in psychology and become a forensic psychologist.

“The school is funding us to compete against other colleges with this honor society,” Safranek said. “I’m doing criminal law.”

Written competitions also include police management, corrections and juvenile justice.

Club officers also include Vice President Mallory Majerek, a Penn High School graduate from Niles; Secretary Racquel “Rocky” Zendejas of Elkhart; Treasurer Zachary Sackrider, a Vicksburg High School graduate from Mendon; Parliamentarian Raymond Vickery of Delton; and Reporter Kathryn Wertz of Goshen, who is interested in corrections.

Majerek, competing in police administration and crime scene investigation, “is still exploring my CJ niche, but my goals include studying the measurement of crime, including through researching and addressing human trafficking, drug trafficking/addiction and violent crime — particularly against vulnerable and marginalized members of our communities — and how vital local law enforcement is for safer communities. My focus is ultimately on victim’s services advocacy and measuring crime in an attempt to disrupt it at the local level.”

“My overall goal is to work for the BAU,” Zendejas said. “I started in criminal justice my junior year of high school at the Elkhart Area Career Center. BAU is the Behavioral Analysis Unit” of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Behavioral analysts assist with criminal investigations, similar to television’s “Criminal Minds.”

“You have to have 15 years of experience to be in the FBI,” Zendejas said, “such as a police officer or detective. I’ll be 36. They look for degrees such as criminology, criminal justice, mathematics and psychology or sociology. Competing in physical agility in Minnesota will give me a small idea of how it is in real life.”

She also regards the trip as a networking opportunity, cultivating professional contacts who could be references down the road.

Vickery “has wanted to be a police officer for the longest time. I’m motivated to protect people. I felt sick to my stomach” listening to human trafficking survivor Theresa Flores’ recent Academic Speaker Series talk. “I don’t want to know why people do it, I just want to stop them.” Vickery is additionally interested in training dogs for canine units.

Sackrider leads the SMC honor society, supported by Vice President Mallory Majerek, Secretary Lindsey Laden of Edwardsburg, Parliamentarian Anthony Antao of Edwardsburg and Safranek.

Laden aspires to be a forensic scientist investigating crime scenes. Antao ultimately wants to be a lawyer after “getting my feet wet” in police work.

Cali Laughlin of Berrien Springs, Lexi Chorba of Dowagiac, Coralynn Hellenthal of Holland and Nick Jelsomeno of Bloomingdale will also be driving to Minnesota with Program Director Don Ricker and his wife, Kendra.

Sigma Mu Chi is one of the college’s five honor avenues, including Alpha Beta Gamma, the international community college business honor society; Sigma Psi chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for community colleges; Psi Beta, the national community college psychology honor society; and SMC’s homegrown Honors Program.

Left, front to back: Kara Safranek, Rocky Zendejas and Lindsey Laden. Right: front to back: Zachary Sackrider, Ray Vickery and Anthony Antao.