How do you find the perfect college major for you? For soon-to-be graduate Summer Trefzger, the answer came when she happened to try a criminal justice course during her last semester of community college.
“I was finishing my associate’s degree at Heartland Community College in spring 2018. My focus was in social work so I could work with registered juvenile sex offenders. During my last semester, I found out that I needed one more course to graduate and was talking about it in the hallway. A professor (Dewhitt Bingham, M.S. ’87) overheard me and jokingly said that I should try an awesome class that he taught,” said Trefzger. It was in Bingham’s Criminal Justice 101 class that Trefzger fell absolutely in love with criminal justice sciences.
Trefzger decided to transfer to Illinois State University and major in criminal justice sciences. “Keep in mind, I had already been accepted at my number one choice (Kansas State), in their social work program. That had always been the plan,” she said. “I really only applied at ISU because my 12-year-old daughter loves Reggie the Redbird so much.”
Even though she knew she had found her fit in the classroom, adjusting to Illinois State took some time. “I am married with children…I felt closer to the professors and the administration than I did to the student body,” Trefzger explained. “I felt like a bit of a loner.”
“I ended up having an extremely emotional conversation with my husband and kids last semester, and I realized that I was part of the problem,” she said. “I didn’t reach out, and I had put a label on myself. I decided to change things.”
“Last fall, I decided to reach out and become a part of the department and campus community. I joined Breaking Barriers and the Criminal Justice Sciences Association, which in turn led me to Alpha Phi Sigma,” Trefzger said. “I have never felt more a part of a school.”
As part of her curriculum, Trefzger did an internship at Woodford County Probation. “I was so nervous, but an officer there told me that if I was nervous, it meant that I cared,” she said. “I really wanted to be the best intern that they had ever seen. It took a week or two, but we warmed up to each other. I could not have found a better internship placement.”
“The entire department was really there for me. The probation officers and supervisor, the defense attorneys, prosecutors, bailiffs, and judges all had an open-door policy with me. They pushed me to learn and be the best person possible. They taught me more than I could ever put into words,” she said.
“It wasn’t always easy, but to see the amount of passion and care that they put into their jobs changed my views,” she said. “There isn’t one thing in particular that stands out, but I will never forget the advice and learning opportunities they gave me.”
After graduation, Trefzger will start her new role as a case manager at Onarga Family Healing Center, a residential treatment facility for male juveniles who have had some form of contact with the criminal justice system. She will have 4–6 children on her caseload, and her duties will range from “making sure they get up in the morning, to making sure they get court dates, to making sure they get family visits, to making each of them an individualized education and treatment plan,” she said. The facility has a residential wing as well as a transitional living program. It also has a junior high and high school, as well as counselors on-site.
Trefzger’s final semester at ISU was disrupted by the coronavirus situation. “I think the hardest part was leaving for spring break and not being able to say goodbye or walk in Commencement at this time. I feel like I am missing out right when I was starting to feel at home.”
“It is so important to put yourself out there. I learned that communication and participation are the keys to everything,” she said. “The professors are there to help and really care about you!”
If Trefzger could give other students advice, she would encourage them to lean on those around you.
“Whether it be your colleagues, your family, the faculty, graduate assistants, teaching assistants, you would be surprised at the amount of other people going through the same things that you are. And, above all, don’t give up!”
Does criminal justice sciences sound like it could be the major for you? Learn more here.