Alumna hones skills in local jails
July 28, 2015 / By Tiffany Murray-Robertson
Dina Ayad (C.J'14) prepares for work during the 2014 session of the Summer Student Basic Jailor Academy.
For nearly a decade, Dina Ayad has been fascinated by the criminal justice system.
Ayad and her family immigrated to the United States from Egypt in 2005, during the height of viewership for American television crime dramas like “CSI,” “NCIS,” “Law and Order,” and “Forensic Science.”
“I remember being glued to any show where good policing and high-tech, forensic science was likely to lead to the key break in the case,” said Ayad, a 2014 graduate of the bachelor’s program in criminal justice at the VCU Wilder School and a current recruit for the Prince William County Police Department.
Last summer, Ayad joined the ranks of more than 100 emerging law enforcement professionals who have participated in the Student Basic Jailer Academy, a unique program designed to provide students with a meaningful experiential opportunity within Henrico County’s Department of Corrections.
The first jail and university partnership of its kind in Virginia, the Student Basic Jailer Academy allows accepted rising junior and senior level criminal justice students to earn college credit, become certified as correctional deputies by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and become eligible for part-time employment in the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office.
“Without a program like the Student Basic Jailor Academy, it’s unusual for college students to find summer internships that provide real-world experience working with adult offenders.”
– Robyn McDougle
Participating students complete an intensive online VCU course and attend Henrico’s Correctional Academy for eight weeks, said Blythe Bowman, an associate professor of criminal justice in the Wilder School and coordinator of the program. They are paid about $16 an hour upon completion of the academy. The program also helps students to develop skills through on-the-job training at a significant savings to municipalities while helping local jails to maintain state-required inmate-to-correctional officer ratios.
“It’s an innovative program,” said Bowman. “Students who complete this program gain a much richer understanding of the complexity of jails and gain experience working firsthand with a spectrum of offenders, which will serve them well as they begin their criminal justice careers and prepare them for a variety of paths. And by the time they graduate, they have not only a criminal justice degree but also one to two years of law enforcement and correctional experience. This makes them incredibly attractive hires for various criminal justice agencies.”
“Without a program like the Student Basic Jailor Academy, it’s unusual for college students to find summer internships that provide real-world experience working with adult offenders,” said Robyn McDougle, an associate professor of criminal justice at the Wilder School and founding faculty member of the academy program.
“Anytime that we can connect our students to careers and have those real like experiences, it really helps them to define what their future pathway will be,” she said.
Ayad knows what she wants to do—solve criminal cases with forensic know-how, just like her television heroes.
But the academy has given her a head start and a chance to develop her focus. Two weeks ago, she snagged her current position as a recruit for the Prince William County Police Department where she plans to pursue a career as a crime scene examiner upon graduation.
It’s a good fit for an alumna who is passionate about analyzing data that can help victims find justice.