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Graduates of IU Police Academy’s 50th class reflect on unique experiences

Aug 14, 2023

The Indiana University Police Academy honored its 50th class of graduates on Aug. 12. The 22 new police officers hailed from diverse backgrounds and brought a wide range of experiences to the two-year program. The law enforcement training they received covers over 90 topics including federal and state laws, individual rights, investigation procedures, physical tactics, medical aid, and emergency vehicle operations.

We talked to a few of the graduates to find out about their experience with the one-of-a-kind program, where full-time college students can become licensed police officers in the state of Indiana while earning a degree.

Olivia Feltenberger

IU Kokomo senior and criminal justice major Olivia Feltenberger said the lessons she learned at the IU Police Academy will be applicable throughout her life, especially the training that focused on communication skills.

Olivia Feltenberger. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy Olivia Feltenberger. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy

“Not only is communication a large contributing factor within policing, but it’s also a part of daily life,” she said. “I would like to think I was a good communicator before attending the IUPA; however, my experience here has significantly heightened my skill set.”

Part of the communication training she received included learning survival phrases in Spanish and American Sign Language.

“These two courses are some of the most beneficial curriculums we are given,” she said. “The small bit of Spanish and ASL I learned while in the academy is more than enough to help me effectively engage with my community.”

The training Feltenberger received has laid a strong foundation for her next step: working as a part-time officer with the IU Police Department while she pursues her degree.

“The academy is a physically and mentally challenging experience,” she said. “I have seen a significant amount of growth professionally and personally. I can confidently say I have put all I have into the police academy, and I am proud of myself for maintaining my drive.”

Ron Fitzgerald

Ron Fitzgerald’s path to the IU Police Academy was untraditional. A 55-year-old Army veteran with a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice as well as training with previous law enforcement academies, Fitzgerald had more experience than the other recruits in the program. He is a full-time police officer at IU Northwest but needed to complete the academy to earn full police authority in the state.

Ron Fitzgerald. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy Ron Fitzgerald. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy

“Being the ‘elder statesman’ of my academy class who already had previous law enforcement experience, one of the most challenging aspects for me was trying to relate to my younger classmates,” Fitzgerald said.

Instead of just being an “outdated fossil,” he said, working through the program helped him gained a new perspective.

“I learned a great deal, not only from the instructors but from my fellow recruits, by observing them ‘think outside the box’ to resolve situations in a manner I hadn’t considered,” he said.

Fitzgerald also gained an appreciation for the IU Police Department’s modern, holistic approach to policing.

“The training I’ve received through the IU Police Academy provides equal focus on critical-thinking, problem-solving and customer-service aspects of policing that are rooted in de-escalation techniques to gain voluntary compliance from an offender as opposed to just potentially heavy-handed, tactical methods,” he said.

Roman Robic

A senior studying criminal justice at IU South Bend, Roman Robic found strength in the relationships he developed at the academy.

Roman Robic Roman Robic. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy

“The best part of my experience with the IU Police Academy was undoubtedly the opportunity to meet and connect with my co-workers who came from various regions throughout the state,” he said. “As a cadet, I quickly realized that the academy brought together a diverse group of individuals, each with their unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.”

Completing the academy requires resilience, perseverance and teamwork, skills that Robic said will benefit him throughout his life.

“The sense of unity and teamwork fostered at the academy has shown me the power of leaning on others during tough times and offering support in return,” he said.

For Robic, working through the challenges of the program was well worth the reward, and he would recommend it to others who want to pursue a profession in law enforcement.

“It will push you to your limits and demand your dedication and perseverance,” he said. “However, the skills and knowledge you gain will be invaluable, not just for your career but also for personal growth.”

William Schmitt

William Schmitt, who is in his third year of studying law and public policy at IU Bloomington, was familiar with law enforcement and the IU Police Academy long before he joined the program. Schmitt’s father, two of his uncles and a cousin graduated from the same academy. His grandfather also served as chief of police in Jasper, Indiana.

William Schmitt William Schmitt. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy

“Being a recruit in the IU Police Academy has been a goal of mine for a long time,” he said. “I wanted to follow in their footsteps and join the IU Police Academy because I have seen all the opportunities that this program has created for them in their careers. I really believe that Indiana University and the cadet officer program is one of the best places in the country to start a career in law enforcement.”

Despite Schmitt’s familiarity with the program, there were still aspects of the academy that surprised him, including the priority placed on understanding a community’s diverse needs.

“The IU Police Academy really puts a strong emphasis on learning about and forming relationships with all the different communities in which we serve,” he said. “Because of this, we are able to learn a lot in the academy about the diversity of our campus from leaders of the different cultural centers at IU.”

Strengthening relationships across the community is an aspect of law enforcement that Schmitt said will help him as he pursues a career as a police officer.

“The academy is just the first step, and I know the challenges faced now are shaping me to be able to make a difference in the future,” he said.

Aaron Worthington

Aaron Worthington, who graduated from IU Bloomington in 2022, faced a personal tragedy during his time in the academy, when he and his wife lost their 19-week-old daughter, Emery.

Aaron Worthington Aaron Worthington. Photo courtesy of the IU Police Academy

“That shut everything down for me,” he said. “That experience really put everything in the world in perspective.”

When Worthington faced this tragic loss, the support of his fellow recruits, the academy leadership and the IU Police Department helped him continue through the program.

“They supported me in every way,” he said. “Everyone I worked with gave it their all to make sure I had what I needed to succeed.”

Despite the circumstances he faced, Worthington has excelled. During the academy’s graduation ceremony, he received the Outstanding Firearms Proficiency Award and the Greg Butler Academic Achievement Award.

“Even with all the challenges I had and still succeeding as one of the top in the class, that makes me feel good about myself,” he said.

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