Three graduates from the newest class of recruits with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) are trailblazers of a sort. They are the first to complete the agency’s Staff Training Academy (STA) as part of the Corrections Workforce Development Pathways (CWDP) partnership between NDCS and Peru State College. The program provides $15,000 in tuition and a stipend annually to students who choose a career in criminal justice. While completing classwork in pursuit of their degree, students work as interns at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI).
In all, 16 students graduated at Whitehall School on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. In addition to offering his congratulations, Governor Pete Ricketts told friends and family members in attendance that they were key to supporting those willing to enter a difficult and challenging profession.
“The NDCS partnership with Peru State is a one-of-a-kind initiative to connect talented college students with opportunities in the State’s criminal justice system,” said Gov. Ricketts. “The apprenticeship model equips students with the direct experience and on-the-job skills needed to excel in a career with our Department of Corrections. We’re excited to celebrate the program’s first graduates as they join our state team.”
Peru State President, Dr. Michael Evans, said the ceremony represented the culmination of a lot of hard work, dedication and determination by the students.
“They should be justifiably proud of this honor. Peru State provides opportunities for talented students to develop the skills required to fill critical needs for the state and the region, and these students are well prepared to launch impressive careers. We look forward to watching them contribute to Tecumseh and beyond in meaningful ways.”
With an eye on his future career goals, the program with Peru State and NDCS will enable Gabriel Stolinski to afford the expense of college and at the same time, receive necessary job experience. “I’ve always wanted to serve the public in some way, as I come from a family with a lot of public servants,” said Stolinski. “Working for the Department of Corrections will allow me to do that and it will be a steppingstone into law enforcement.”
Paw Wah said he also recognized that enrolling in the program was a unique opportunity. “This gives me a chance to work at TSCI to prepare for the reality of how the justice system works with the incarcerated population as well as help me gain more experiences.”
According to NDCS Director Scott R. Frakes, it is those experiences that will allow students to build a career in correctional services. “Some people enter this field with the notion that it is only a job. But there are many opportunities to gain leadership skills and to promote.”
Dir. Frakes pointed to the wardens and members of his leadership team, many of whom have decades of experience under their belts. “They have built lifelong careers in corrections, while serving the public good in a significant way.”
Students must apply to the program and are interviewed by representatives of Peru State College and NDCS, prior to selection. Those who are chosen work part-time as officers at TSCI while attending school, with an opportunity for full-time employment after graduation.
“As their knowledge of corrections deepens and they gain more experience over the course of the program, students will be able to join NDCS as first level supervisors,” explained Dir. Frakes. “The long-term value is development of a highly educated and skilled correctional leader cohort, prepared to take on the challenges of successfully leading the corrections workforce.”
Cherise Womelsdorf said she was looking for a career that was personally fulfilling. This scholarship program fit the bill.
“I always thought that corrections would be part of my process for the experience,” said Womelsdorf. “As a single mother, I wasn’t sure how I was going to balance children, being a full-time student and a full-time commitment to the department. This program is practical for me.”
During the six weeks students were together they learned about the various components that are essential to corrections – things like reentry, clinical treatment, behavioral health, classification, legal issues and more. While they will not hold armed posts, students were trained in how to use a firearm. They were also certified in CPR/first aid and learned self-defense techniques.
“The Peru State students have been exposed to all of the training that we would put any other team member through who has immediate contact with the inmate population,” said Dir. Frakes. Four more Peru State students are in the process of completing their training at the academy and will also graduate in the coming weeks.