Tenecia Waddell-Pyle (BSCJ’16) was still a police officer when her classes began at O’Neill IUPUI. Her mission to earn a college degree, set an example for her children, and prepare for a new phase in her career led her to O’Neill.
“I’m always teaching my kids about follow-through,” she says. “In order for me to grow and do better in life—and to show my sons that you finish what you start—I knew I had to do this.”
She had worked as a corrections officer before joining a police department. Now, pursuing her Criminal Justice degree would lay the groundwork for her next step and beyond. After earning her associate’s degree from Ivy Tech in 2012, she compared several universities and decided to come to O’Neill to take that degree to the next level.
“O’Neill’s programs focus on practical skills that both genuinely prepare students to enter the criminal justice field and enhance the wisdom of seasoned veterans like myself,” Waddell-Pyle explains.
She also found she wasn’t alone. Some of her faculty members also had real-world experience under their belts.
“Having former officers, veterans, and public policy workers among my professors really spoke to me,” she says. “They were reflective of what I was dealing with on the job. It was invaluable to come into a classroom and feel like the instructor could relate to me and communicate better with me because we have shared experiences.”
Waddell-Pyle says her professors provided meaningful moments for her to share her on-the-job insights with her classmates as well.
“They found value in me being in their class and talking about the topics they were teaching,” she adds. “It creates an awesome dynamic and great learning experience when you really have people from all walks of life in the classroom.”
Those moments and guidance from O’Neill’s faculty helped Waddell-Pyle better understand that her career was a calling not a job.
“I’ll always remember one faculty member kept using the term ‘criminal justice practitioner’ for what I was doing,” she recalls proudly. “That helped me understand that I didn’t ‘only’ have to be a cop—I had a broader skillset I could apply in a lot of different positions. That was so empowering.”
After leaving her role as a police officer, she combined what she had learned in law enforcement with her O’Neill education to become the director of crisis intervention services at Mental Health America.
“My O’Neill Criminal Justice degree has been a great light in my life,” she says. “It has helped me gain opportunities and make an impact in the spaces I’ve been in—from a 15-year career in law enforcement to nonprofit executive leadership and now to corporate senior leadership.”
Just as she had done in law enforcement, she created training, developed, and managed programs at MHA that would guide her colleagues and help them become better equipped to serve others—only this time, she was doing it using lessons learned at O’Neill.
“Being at O’Neill taught me tangible skills, how to think more deeply, navigate spaces with practical experience, and how to create change systemically,” she says.
Those systemic changes were where Waddell-Pyle’s mind—and career—moved next.
Six years after earning her O’Neill degree, she’s now in a career dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion as the first DEI director at MyPath—an organization providing educational, therapeutic, and community supports for children and adults with disabilities, mental health issues, and other significant needs.
“The marriage between my years in law enforcement, my education, and my lived experience have helped me to create and change systems,” she says. “In DEI, you really are working to create something that will support and foster safety for a spectrum of many.”
She sees the parallels between what she’s doing now and the stages of her career’s evolution, from corrections officer to police officer to crisis center director to DEI leader.
“I want to stay in this DEI space and see how I can grow here while helping others,” she says with a smile. “Evolution of self is a beautiful thing.”