Cole Stillson

Cole Stillson wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in when he began college on the Lyndon campus, but it didn’t take him long to decide. 

An introductory criminal justice course taught by assistant professor Brandon Stroup showed him the path he wanted to follow, and he began making career plans. “The first criminal justice class just clicked with me,” Cole said. “I see laws as the representation of how politics or the opinions of people in power are expressed in public. I really want to be involved in that.” 

Gaining Hands-On Experience and Networking in an Internship 

Cole spent a summer as an intern at the Vermont Correctional Academy in Lyndonville, which gave him the opportunity to learn a lot on the job. 

Cole sat in on classes with students at the academy, participated in trainings, created handbooks for classes, and maintained student personnel files.  

“The internship was really cool. I got experience seeing how correctional officers are being trained,” he said. 

“Meeting people in the criminal justice field and getting their perspectives on it was helpful. Having multiple perspectives come together to solve problems, I saw a lot of that at the academy,” he said. “Plus, I got to know people in the corrections system.” 

During the internship, Cole also gained experience for his career by earning safety-training certificates in emergency preparedness and accident investigation. 

Unique Class Offerings 

Back on the Lyndon campus, Cole has enjoyed his classes related to restorative justice, a method that typically involves bringing offenders and victims together to mutually agree on how offenders can make amends to victims or the community. 

“This is really the only school that has in-depth classes on this subject,” Cole said. “I put a lot of value on that … Not a lot of people have a belief in restorative justice going into the criminal justice field. I feel like I have the ability and motivation to change the system to make it fairer.” 

Cole also credits his advisor Brandon with expanding his knowledge through classes. “He has helped me hone my perspective on the whole criminal justice situation. He’s very easy to talk to, one of the best teachers I’ve had here,” Cole said. 

Brandon’s course on white-collar crime opened up a potential career option for Cole as an FBI agent focused on that type of crime. “The class really motivated me to set that goal for my career,” said Cole, who is exploring opportunities with the FBI and other federal agencies. 

Learning Important GIS Mapping Skills 

The criminal justice program offers students the rare opportunity to learn geographic information system (GIS) crime mapping, which police departments and federal agencies use. Through his classes, Cole earned a GIS certification. “That’s an excellent skill to have, especially in criminal justice,” he said. 

Cole has benefited from the high-impact learning experience his small classes provide.  

“Knowing everybody you’re in a class with and the teacher knowing everyone in the class is exceptional,” Cole said. “You always feel like you’re a valued person in the classroom.”