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Personal Experiences Influence Career Choice for Debbie Black

May 06, 2008

Debbie Black  
Debbie Black, a criminal justice student
at STLCC-Forest Park, is the 2008
Breaking Traditions Missouri
Postsecondary Student Award recipient.

Debbie Black’s career choice has helped her to both resolve internal conflicts and find meaning in her own family experiences. She plans to draw upon both when she becomes a deputy juvenile officer.

Black, a criminal justice student at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, has persevered through a very difficult marriage, divorce, temporary homelessness and other family crises to get her life back on track and serve as an example to her five children.

"Because my children are my life, I have been there for them through all of this, and we have learned to unknot the tangles as they occurred," said Black, 43, who resides in Woodson Terrace. "Although I would rather not have gone through some of my experiences, I did seem to have the ability to work through the related problems and concerns without getting mired in them."

After resolving some family issues, Black opted to enroll at Forest Park in 2005, but immediately felt lost and out of place around younger students. With the help of Candace Niemeyer, a counselor in the New Traditions program, and the St. Louis Community College Foundation, Black found scholarships to pay for classes and the inspiration to keep going.

"She provides support when I feel like I am in over my head as well as when I am faced with non-school related challenges," Black said. "Candace serves as a role model for how important it is to provide encouragement to people like me who are working to change their lives."

While studying criminal justice, Black also obtained a certificate of specialization in pharmacy technology and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year institutions. She also is the recipient of the 2008 Breaking Traditions Missouri Postsecondary Student Award. Sponsored by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Missouri Center for Career Education (MCCE) and the MCCE career education coordinators, the award honors outstanding students who have chosen specific career and technical programs considered nontraditional based on gender.

Encouraged by easily achieving good grades, Black explored career options based on her personality and experiences. She immediately knew she wanted to work with and help people, particularly those who have taken wrong turns in life.

"I believe there are experiences in your life that imply a certain path is personally meaningful," Black said.

Niemeyer concurred. "Debbie’s approach to working with juveniles is based on empathy and curiosity. She exhibits compassion for their situation and believes the key to behavioral change lies in understanding how they arrived at the place where their lives intersected with the criminal justice system. People whose career is based in purpose generally are employees who perform well because they have passion for their work. I predict this will be true for Debbie."

After completing her associate degree, Black hopes to attend the University of Missouri-St. Louis to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and eventually earn a master’s degree in counseling.

"My long-term dream is to work with youth that come to see me as their parole or probation officer, and to expand my expertise to counsel all those who have been victims of domestic violence," Black said. "There are a lot of youth surging in and out of the criminal justice system who I feel have been mistreated or misunderstood. They need to encounter adults who care about them and will help them learn the discipline it takes to succeed in life. I believe I can make a difference by applying lessons learned in real life with knowledge learned in the classroom to help them."