Students at Ithaca College, like students everywhere, occasionally need a helping hand.
“For some of them, it’s the first time they have ever been away from home,” said IC security officer Joe Opper.
Close in age to the students he safeguards in Ithaca, the SUNY Broome alumnus enjoys interacting with the campus community, whether he’s on patrol or posted in the academic buildings or residence halls.
He was hired by IC in April 2017 – before he even graduated from SUNY Broome. (He earned his AAS in Criminal Justice – Police in May 2016 and his Associate’s in Business Administration in August 2017). He aims to become a campus police officer at Ithaca College – he’s qualified, and is waiting for a position to open up – and plans to take courses toward his bachelor’s degree there this fall.
Starting his new career while still finishing his degree did present some rough patches. At the time, he was taking courses on campus, but worked with his professors to finish them online.
“It was rough, going to school full-time and coming up here,” he remembered. “I was training here and doing my final exams. It wasn’t easy; I had to study for both.”
Starting at SUNY Broome
The Vestal High School graduate wanted a law enforcement career for as long as he could remember, drawn by the prospect of helping others and a career in which circumstances change daily.
He knew, too, that he wanted to attend SUNY Broome just like his older brother, who was able to successfully use his credits to transfer to a four-year institution.
“I saw that as an opportunity to get my Associate’s degree out of the way and after that, I could transfer out,” Opper said. “It was highly rated. In a lot of local police departments, the criminal justice program is where they started.”
In addition to his job as Ithaca College, he works for Broome County Security as a peace officer, typically a shift a week. The additional law enforcement experience can only help his career, and you can find him in a variety of places, from the Broome County Library to the county transit building and at hockey games at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
In both jobs, he uses the knowledge and skills he gained through his degree program, from the way he completes reports to patrol techniques. Understanding the different legal aspects of law enforcement and the organizational structure of typical departments also help him in his career trajectory.
He opted for a second degree in Business Administration to improve his chances for promotion, and to give him additional career opportunities years from now, once he retires from law enforcement.
At Ithaca College, he is majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in management, with an eye toward earning his master’s degree.
“I want to have a long career as a police officer and help a lot of students, and work my way up to at least a sergeant,” he said of his long-term career plans.
He appreciates his start at SUNY Broome, and the professors that guided him on his path. Professor James Sheerin keeps an open-door policy for students and is a ready source of career advice, Opper said. Professor Kerry Weber is also dedicated to students and passes on not only helpful career tips, but job postings, internship opportunities and any other resources that students may find helpful.
Opper also enjoyed Professor Trevor Peachey’s teaching style and, on the Business side, Professor John Kuzma’s willingness to work with him to achieve his educational goals while not passing up his career opportunity at IC.
Overall, Joe Opper feels that his local community college prepared him well for his chosen career. SUNY Broome’s Criminal Justice and Emergency Services program has a positive reputation in the law enforcement world, he noted.
“A lot of (police) departments require an Associate’s degree. They want to see a reputable college,” he said. “SUNY Broome is a well-respected school for that.”