JOLT prepares students for careers in criminal justice

Minnesota State students are getting “jolted” into the criminal justice field with hands-on learning. 

Launched in 2003, Joint Opportunity to Learn and Strive (JOLT) is an experiential learning class taught alongside the Blue Earth County Probation Office along with a partnership with the YMCA Brother Sister program.

Director of Criminal Justice Field Studies Jessica McLaughlin said JOLT covers all probation aspects along with community and school-based mentoring.

“They learn the court processes, a little bit of history about the court system and the ins and outs of being a probation officer,” McLaughlin said. “They also learn a bit about the Mankato community and what younger students are dealing with.”

The class size on average is around a dozen students, but this year 19 students are involved. Probation agent Brady Schloesser participated in JOLT in 2010 and said it prepared him for his career. 

“A lot of agents knew who I was from JOLT and they helped me get my internship in Blue Earth County drug court and then I became a probation agent,” Schloesser said. “JOLT is there to help you get the legwork done in this class before you even step foot into an actual office for your internship.”

In JOLT, students are expected to complete a checklist over the course of two semesters which includes shadowing a probation officer and getting hours with their mentee. McLaughlin said JOLT helps build students’ professionalism and time management skills.

“There are no exams and no textbooks. It’s all field-based experience. It’s certainly a rigorous experience for them. They’re expected to dress and communicate professionally and they do timesheets every week,” McLaughlin said. “It’s their first step into conducting themselves in a professional manner.”

With nearly 10 hours a week dedicated to classroom time, working with probation agents and mentoring, students rack up hours that can be applied to a resume. 

“We’ve had students exceed between 250 to 300 hours at the end of the year. We have some that’ll be over 300 hours and that’s not even in your internship yet,” Schloesser said.

Schloesser said JOLT allows students to test a variety of different professions in the criminal justice field to see if it’s what they want to go into. 

“Some students find out halfway through this isn’t the field they want to be in and that’s okay. At least you can do it now before you get into the field and realize ‘I don’t want to do this. I didn’t think this was what it was all about,’” Schloesser said.

In order to participate in JOLT, students have to go through an application process which includes an interview and a background check. Sophomore Jordan Le Roy, a triple major in criminal justice, law enforcement and psychology, said she decided to apply after she heard about JOLT in her juvenile delinquency class.

“I applied, but I didn’t know if I was gonna get it because I had never done something like that before. I’m really glad that I joined because I got a lot more out of it than I thought,” Le Roy said.

Junior Majd Alharbi is a corrections major and criminal justice minor. She said JOLT has been beneficial as she can apply what she learned in class to the real world.

“Usually when you’re in college, you start panicking about what are you going to do next. With JOLT, you see what’s going on and what you might be experiencing once you graduate,” Alharbi said. “It’s reassuring to be able to see that what you’re learning you actually use.”

Le Roy said her favorite part of being in JOLT is working with the probation officers and seeing the camaraderie. 

“I think they’re very cool people and to see how hard they work and they’re very good at what they do. I think it’s kind of cool to be able to work with those people and being able to see how they handle things in the professional field and then learning from them firsthand,” Le Roy said.

Alharbi said her favorite part is being both a mentee and a mentor. 

“You feel needed by the kids and I really love hanging out with the kids whether it’s school-based or community-based mentoring. You’re supposed to be there mentoring them, but I also learn a lot from these kids,” Alharbi said. 

(Alharbi said students who are in programs other than criminal justice, such as psychology or social work, should still consider joining JOLT.)

McLaughlin said JOLT gives students the chance to stand out from others by giving students a foot in the door for internships and job prospects. 

“I think it expands beyond the typical classroom experience. It’s a tremendous resume builder for students,” McLaughlin said. “It’s like dipping your toes in before you jump all the way in with a career and I think it’s a great experience for anybody who wants more exposure to the criminal justice field.”

Header photo: Director of Criminal Justice Field Studies Jessica McLaughlin (above) said JOLT prepares students for job prospects and future internships. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)

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