Hard work pays off for alum on State Police Protective Detail
Redbird alumnus Ardis D. Cross, left, poses with President Al Bowman at an event. (Courtesy photo)
If you want something in life, you have to go get it.
Ardis D. Cross ’00 learned that simple lesson as a kid growing up near Kankakee in Hopkins Park, one of the poorest rural communities in Illinois. That’s where he watched his parents work their butts off without a high school diploma, where Cross himself worked part-time jobs in extreme weather so he could buy his first car. It’s the kind of place, he says, where you have to work harder than everyone else to make it.
And that’s what Cross did. The Redbird alum is now in his 11th year with the Illinois State Police (ISP), the last six with an Executive Protection Unit that provides security for a statewide elected official.
“Being with the ISP has afforded me the opportunities to travel all over the state, to see and meet various people, as well as to see various places, some I’m sure I would not have seen had it not been for the ISP,” Cross told STATEside. “It’s been amazing, getting that kind of exposure to so many different things. It’s a blessing.”
Cross’ journey into law enforcement started at Illinois State. He was a College of Business major in human resource management, staying busy with leadership roles in the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., the National Pan Hellenic Council, and the National Association of Black Accountants, among others.
Like any new college student, he was struck by his newfound independence. But he got some help staying disciplined as a mentee (and later mentor) with a program now known as Diversity Advocacy, and through the TRiO/Student Support Services program for first-generation students.
“I had good role models,” Cross said.
One of his fraternity brothers recruited him to the State Police at an ISU career fair. Cross was hesitant at first—he was an HR major, with no particular interest in law enforcement—but the recruiter told him the State Police offered a career, not just a job. So he gave it a shot anyway, took a physical fitness test, and by summer 2002 was working tollway patrol in the Chicago area. That lasted five years.
Cross’ current assignment requires him to spend countless hours protecting his dignitary. That means Cross’ schedule is their schedule, “meaning there’s no week that’s the same,” Cross says.
“Our main responsibility is to ensure their safety,” Cross said. “There’s no such thing as routine.”
On the job, Cross, 35, puts the communication skills he learned at Illinois State to good use as he gathers information about, say, the room or building his protectee will be operating in on a particular day.
“That’s what HR is. Dealing with people at all different types of levels,” Cross said.
Despite his schedule, the Illinois State graduate finds time to reach back to the next generation of student and community leaders. Last November, he was the keynote speaker at a “You Can Do ISU” event, where he shared his journey to Illinois State and work ethic with about 700 prospective students.
“That was a humbling experience for me,” said Cross, a member of Illinois State’s Black Colleagues Association. “But when you become successful, you must give back.”
The former substitute teacher also mentors elementary and high school students in Hopkins Park, stressing that they need to take their education as seriously as he did. Cross credits his Illinois State education with preparing him for his career, and he sports his Redbird pride by attending annual events like Homecoming, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner, and the Legacy of Leadership celebration.
“You can’t just go through the motions,” Cross said. “You have to make it happen.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.