It didn't take long for the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) to make its way into Valentina Annunziata's heart.
"I was in town for a cross-country race while I was in high school," she said. "I stumbled upon the campus and found out that UMPI was the only college that had a ski team and a criminal justice program. It was a perfect fit for me and the only school I applied to."
Annunziata graduated from UMPI's Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice program in 2018. As an Owl, she was part of the Nordic ski team for three years.
"The criminal justice program at UMPI is strong, rigorous and tough," she said. "So much of what I was able to do in that program is still relevant to me, the work I've done and to my future career."
After working as an advocate for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence the last two years, Annunziata plans to enroll at the Maine School of Law in August 2020. The Honeoye Falls, New York, native hopes to become an attorney.
"I am interested in public policy, criminal justice reform and anything to do with helping survivors of sexual assault," she said. "When I was in middle school and learned about issues that had to do with sexual assault and domestic violence, they stood out to me. I wanted to do something where I would be able to create change."
When Annunziata enrolled at UMPI, her dream was to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But her experience in the bachelor's degree program helped change her mind.
"I realized how interested I was in policy," she said. "When I was a senior, I did a program called the Maine Policy Scholar in which there was a student from each of the Maine universities.
"We did an independent research project and presented it, which gave me an opportunity to research policy specific to Maine. That was a phenomenal experience."
The Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice program curriculum was especially applicable for Annunziata once she graduated and entered the workforce. CRJ 378: Women and Crime was her favorite course in the program.
"It was about incarcerated women and the reasons why they may have contact with the criminal justice system," she said. "We partnered with the women in our local jail and did a project to help them transition back out into the community.
"When I was a student in that class, we had an advocate who came in and spoke to us. That inspired me to become an advocate, where I was in the jail helping women, as well. Then, I came back to that class as a speaker."
Certain courses in UMPI's B.A. in Criminal Justice program enabled Annunziata to lay the groundwork for law school.
"I decided I wanted to go into law during my junior year," she said. "I found out that UMPI had a pre-law minor option, so I added it and was able to take classes like business law, constitutional law, criminal law and procedural law. I already have been exposed to the basics before I start law school."
Plus, Annunziata gained valuable experience as a member of the university's Criminal Justice Club.
"Serving on the club's executive board gives students an opportunity for leadership," she said. "We also went on a trip each year to see how the criminal justice system works in different cities around the U.S. We went to Dallas, Denver and Washington D.C.
"Because we did some major fundraising, these trips were essentially free for students. It was huge to make connections and learn more about criminal justice and the law."
Hoot, There It Is
Given Annunziata's many accomplishments during her undergraduate years, her family was eager to see her walk the graduation stage and cheer her on.
"They were excited," she said. "They drove the 14 hours to watch me graduate. I absolutely got great value out of the program and my time at UMPI."
Although Annunziata is going to law school, she believes that UMPI's Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree provides graduates with myriad career choices.
"Keep an open mind," she said "Criminal justice is not always what people think it's going to be. It's not just learning how to be a police officer — the topic of criminal justice is a lot broader. You learn about policies, law and theories that lead to why we practice and enforce laws in certain ways. It's a more well-rounded approach than a lot of people believe.
"People who study criminal justice end up taking a variety of career paths. I have friends who are in law school, work for the border patrol and customs, are state troopers and corrections officers, and who do a wide range of things. It's not limiting at all."
Learn more about UMPI's online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice program.
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