Kerri Alford (BSCJ’14) helps teens and young adults find their futures. After working as a career transition specialist for Atterbury Job Corps, guiding students into careers, she’s now an instructor with the program.
Some of the 16–24-year-olds she works with have been involved in the criminal justice system, but she’s quick to point out many haven’t—a misconception she says many people have about the program. Some students come to complete their high school degrees. Others come for trade job training programs.
Looking back, Alford sees how her past led to her present. It’s the culmination of her interests, experiences, and opportunities.
She had transferred to IUPUI to become a teacher but quickly realized elementary education wasn’t for her. Her original plan hadn’t worked out. It happens, she admits, with a smile. But it left her with a big decision: what should she do next?
She credits spending time in the gym with police officers for steering her toward the O’Neill School. Talking to them about their work and what they did piqued her interest.
So, she switched majors to Criminal Justice.
“I fell in love with the O’Neill School, my professors, and the curriculum,” she says. “I loved what I did at O’Neill, and I got quite a bit out of the program. It’s definitely where I fit best, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.”
That included an internship with Marion County Superior Court’s juvenile probation office. She was interning in a school setting back when probation officers were on-site in schools. While she liked working with teens, she worried the approach fed the school-to-prison pipeline.
“We had a lot of students who were referred to the probation office because of disciplinary issues,” she recalls. “These issues weren’t necessarily criminal, but they were issues the school needed to address.”
Her internship provided valuable learnings, insight, and direction for Alford. It also opened the door to her first job after graduation on the Probation Office’s Community Adjustment Team. She eventually moved to juvenile intake, processing young people, and helping them prepare for their initial hearings.
In 2015, she reconnected with O’Neill through her former instruction and now-retired faculty member Jim White. She was moved by events going on in policing and the criminal justice realm and felt compelled to reach out to White to thank him for holding space for students to talk about current events in a safe space.
“The shift in policing and criminal justice is going to impact all of us as we move into our careers,” she says. “We’re not all going to have the same opinion, but he kept space open for all of us to have a civil discussion about what was going on.”
That impromptu conversation sparked an invitation to return to the classroom, this time to share her experiences with other students. Alford served as a guest speaker in White’s class multiple times until his retirement in 2019.
It’s also one of the reasons she’s in the position she’s in now. She liked having a connection to education and young people. After nearly a decade as a probation officer, she made a big shift.
“My current position is a culmination of my areas of interest and expertise,” she recalls. “I’m part of the educational realm and I’m working with young adults, some of whom have been justice-involved.”
But what hasn’t changed is the fact that Alford is still making an impact. She says that’s what spoke to her as an O’Neill student and still does in her career today.
“I loved what I did with probation, but I didn’t feel fulfillment,” she says. “I wasn’t making as much of an impact as I could. Today, I know that I’m making that impact. I see it on a day-to-day basis.”
She says she was able to make the jump because of how diverse her O’Neill Criminal Justice degree is. While she says some students may put themselves into a box without realizing the many opportunities afforded to them by an O’Neill degree, she says students need to keep their focus on their purpose.
“O’Neill students have a place in the real world,” she says. “And their place in the real world makes a real difference.”