IOWA FALLS At Ellsworth Community College, Crim acinal Jus atice students get way more than just the textbook basics they also learn through real-li a cfe examples and testimonials from their professor, part-time police officer Michael Emerson.
Officer Emerson has been serving the Iowa Falls community for nearly 16 years; he began teaching at ECC two and a half years ago. Emerson started his education at Ellsworth before studying at Buena Vista University, and eventually Concordia University in Saint Paul, MN. After actively serving the Iowa Falls community for nine years, he was promoted to sergeant. Since taking on teaching full-time, he resumed police officer duties on a part-time basis. His experiences and professional connections as an officer have played exceedingly well into his curriculum, and his passion for both of his jobs is contagious to students studying to become future law enforcement professionals.
"I really like interacting with the students, and I enjoy feeling like I am having some sort of impact on them," says Emerson. "While they're in my classroom, I have the opportunity to open their eyes to different options in the field."
ECC Criminal Justice instructor Mike Emerson, second from left, explains the technical set-up and equipment on an Iowa Falls Police Department cruiser to his Criminal Justice students. -Iowa Valley photo
Emerson's specialties on the police force include interview and interrogation, crisis negotiation, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), and teaching pepper spray tactics. Although he teaches crisis negotiation in his classroom, interview and interrogation tends to be the most popular subject matter among his students. "Getting someone to tell you things that they don't want to tell you is not accomplished in the real world like it is in the movies or on TV it isn't aggressive or violent at all," Emerson explains. He shares footage from shows like Cops and The First 48, which feature actual officers who are dealing with real people, as part of his classroom training.
Emerson says his field experiences have added more validity to his teaching: "I feel that there's merit and definite value in my real-world examples of what has worked, and what hasn't worked. Students like to see that kind of credibility in their studies."
On his reasons for continuing to work as a part-time police officer while teaching full-time, Emerson says, "Honestly, when you do get to help somebody, it really does feel good. There is some truth to that and value in being there for another human being. I love being in both worlds."
While having a professor who is currently certified in the field is a definite bonus for ECC's Criminal Justice program, Emerson points out other factors that separate ECC from other colleges. "Small class sizes are wonderful; we start to gel as a group, as a family, and we create a good relationship. We also have a nice campus in a nice community, and there's a big advantage to that." Emerson's Criminal Justice Club members get to attend training with the Iowa Falls Police Department, which is a great way to incorporate interactive learning.
Emerson advises current and prospective Criminal Justice students: "take your academics seriously; more than anything, college is preparing you for the work you will do in the field, so think of your academic pursuits as prep work for your future job. Follow instructions, meet deadlines, be independent, self-motivated, and ask the right questions, because nobody just hands you the answers in the real world."
One of Emerson's sophomore students, Kayla Kruse of Monona, IA, is grateful for her experiences in and out of the classroom. "Studying at ECC is a unique experience. I feel very confident and like I could have a competitive edge because I've attended ECC. I know that criminal justice programs around the world do activities and fundraisers within their clubs, but a lot of them have advisors and professors who have been out of the system for a while. I have a professor who is up to date on training and who is currently working in the field. He is confident and very knowledgeable," she said.
As President of the ECC Criminal Justice Club, Kruse is heavily involved with all of the training and learning experiences the club has to offer. "The club gets to take field trips to places like the Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Center in Eldora. We have done a live fire drill, which I liked because it's a really effective learning tool. We also host a variety of fundraisers; this week's fundraiser takes place at Pizza Ranch on Tip Night, which will help raise money for a defibrillator for a building on campus."
Kruse would like to work in law enforcement after graduation and feels that earning her associate degree will give her a preview of what her training and work will entail. "It would be ideal to do county or bigger city federal work in the long run," she said.
Her advice to other students interested in Criminal Justice is: "Take as many classes offered as you can, and join clubs. Explore the field, make yourself marketable, and be versatile."
Freshman David Frank of Iowa Falls said he enjoys the small classrooms that allow for open discussion. He likes having online debates with classmates about different class materials and issues, and feels that the debates help shape his opinions and ideas. "I like all the information I'm learning, and Emerson makes it a lot more fun to learn about because of his prior experiences. It's neat to hear him share the real-life scenarios of what he's gone through. He gives details on certain situations that provide visuals of what the job field looks like. He's passionate about what he does, and he makes learning interesting," Frank said.
Frank also enjoys being active in the Criminal Justice Club, and appreciates how his field trips have shaped the way he feels about juvenile delinquents. "Just because they have a past doesn't mean that they are bad kids," he explains. When he graduates, Frank would like to be an officer in Iowa Falls or in a small nearby town.
His advice for others interested in Criminal Justice: "Make sure this is what you want to get into. You aren't always in the action, and you better do your research. It's an interesting career, but you have to make sure it fits your personality. It requires you to be serious, professional, organized, and honest."
For more information about the Ellsworth Community College Criminal Justice program, contact Michael Emerson at or phone 641-648-8632.