Like so many Bethel alums, Barry Michael planned to graduate from college on a “typical” timeline. In fact, after finishing high school in 1979, the Jackson native went straight on to Memphis State University. But a year-and-a-half into his traditional college experience, he decided to apply for a job at the Jackson Police Department, and was hired. That’s when Barry dropped out of college to devote his life to law enforcement.
It might be typical to say he “never looked back” as he rose through the ranks, ultimately earning the title of Deputy Chief of Police. But that wasn’t the case with Barry.
“Even 34 years later,” he says, “I kept telling myself that I needed to finish my degree because my mom and dad wanted me to.”
As fate would have it, in June 2010, Barry attended a week-long law-enforcement seminar in Jackson, and it was there he ran into Ray Farris. Ray was working for the state, but “trying to help get Bethel’s new online Criminal Justice program off the ground,” Barry recalls. “I just happened to mention to him that I’d always wanted to go back to school, but my work schedule just didn’t allow it. And Ray said, ‘Brother, I’ve got something for you right here.’”
Ray told him that Bethel was starting its very first group of online Criminal Justice students. The new online format, he said, would allow Barry to juggle his personal, professional, and academic responsibilities. Ray’s enthusiasm was contagious. Barry enrolled. And just 17 months later, in December of 2011, Barry graduated with that first cohort group.
His mother proudly watched him cross the stage to receive his long-awaited degree, but couldn’t refrain from joking, “‘It took you long enough!’”
Barry responded, “I told you that I’d get my degree – I just didn’t tell you how long it’d take!”
At graduation, fate intervened once again. President Walter Butler, along with Ray Farris, hosted a reception for all the new graduates.
When they told the group about a new online master’s in Criminal Justice program that had kicked off two weeks before, Barry was more than interested. Retirement was fast approaching, and he wanted a chance to teach. “But I figured it was too late to get into the first cohort group.”
Not so, Dr. Butler assured him. “Ray Farris told me to go home and talk it over with my family,” Barry says. “But my wife said, ‘We don’t need to talk about it.’ And Dr. Butler responded, ‘sign him up.’”
Barry started grad school the following Saturday, and once again, ended up graduating with the very first cohort group. Shortly thereafter, he started teaching classes for Bethel. As a former student, and now an instructor, he knows the challenges of combining a criminal-justice career with academic responsibilities.
“We all work long hours. But in this program, you’ve got a whole week to finish a unit and meet the deadline,” Barry says. “I tell folks that this program is perfect for people like us — folks who never know from one day to the next what’s going to happen. “
Barry continues, “I recommend the program for anybody looking for a job in criminal justice, or anyone who’s already in the field. A lot of police departments are looking for applicants with advanced degrees, because there’s a certain maturity level that comes with meeting those deadlines. It shows commitment.”
Most importantly, says Barry, “No matter how long you’ve been doing this job, there’s still more to learn.”
~ By PR Director Cindy Chambers
Cindy Smith Chambers has 40 years’ experience in public relations and journalism. She serves as PR Director for Bethel University’s College of Professional Studies, and is a fulltime faculty member specializing in college writing and marketing.
If you have a Bethel Success Story to share, or want to comment on a current story, please contact Cindy Chambers at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear how your educational journey — or those of others — have impacted your life!