It may seem cliché, but jumping into a pool of ice-cold water on a snowy winter day really does take your breath away.
After your head resurfaces, you can’t help but take a sharp, short gasp, as 2015 SUNY Broome graduate Steven Patinka found when he participated in this year’s Polar Plunge. The fifth annual event, organized and run by students in SUNY Broome’s Hospitality Programs, raises funds for the Wes Warren Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Now a police officer at Binghamton University, Patinka remembered the late Professor Warren, a criminal justice professor. Other professors who made an impact on his education and his career path include Criminal Justice and Emergency Services Chair Kerry Weber, EMT and Paramedic program coordinator James Sheerin and Leigh Morrissey, who joined Patinka in taking the icy plunge.
While at SUNY Broome, Patinka opted for a Homeland Security major. It’s a misconception that future police officers need to limit their major to criminal justice, and Patinka found that Homeland Security better suited his needs. The program has a broad spectrum, he explained, with classes in criminal investigation, criminology, hazardous materials, the theory and practice of terrorism and more.
The classes “set a baseline” for his knowledge, which he then deepened in the law enforcement academy, he said.
“The amount of writing you have to do in the program definitely helps you in the field because of the amount of reports you have to write,” he noted.
Patinka’s own journey toward a college degree differs from that of his peers. A military veteran, he spent three years in the Air Force working in the security forces, that branch’s equivalent of the military police. The experience interested him in law enforcement, which hadn’t previously been on his radar.
SUNY Broome was the logical choice, and not only because it’s close to home.
“Being out of school for three years, it was good to start at the beginning,” Patinka explained.
As a veteran, however, he did experience a bit of a culture shock. While he was close in age to his fellow students, military service has a way of forcing people to grow up quickly and inculcates a disciplined mindset. Interacting with peers who didn’t have such experiences was eye-opening.
Enter SUNY Broome’s Veterans & Military Affairs Office, which offers resources for veterans who are attending classes on campus. The college also has a Veterans Resource Center in the Student Services Building, where veterans can go if they need help navigating their educational benefits or other issues, meet with peer advisors or socialize with each other in a safe and supportive space.
Patinka worked as an assistant to Joe Drotar, the Assistant Director of Financial Aid/Veterans Services, while on campus and found a home in the Veterans Resource Center.
“It helped out a lot with the transition. It helps you adjust,” he said. “In the Veterans Center, you’re around people with similar experiences.”
Looking ahead, Patinka’s career goals include investigation and eventually becoming a lieutenant in the university police system. So, why does a career in police work interest this Air Force veteran?
“I like being able to help people and you never go into the same thing twice,” he said. “It’s always different and your career is constantly evolving.”