Keep Trying, Think Critically, and Practice What You are Learning
First-generation college student Jolene Goeden’94 came to Beloit interested in the law and psychology. She graduated equipped to study forensic psychology and is now a FBI Special Agent.
“I grew up in Ripon, Wis., where my dad was the Ripon College painter. That job allowed his three kids, including me, to attend college, because we could take advantage of the tuition remission program for employees of ACM colleges.”
At Beloit, Jolene’s interest in the intersection of law and psychology led her to major in both sociology, for its connections to law, and psychology. Faculty members Marlynn May and Larry White advised her in these respective disciplines.
“Pretty quickly I settled on forensic psychology as my focus, which was Larry’s specialization. As a result, I spent an awful lot of hours in his office, talking about ideas and life. Those conversations challenged me to analyze my choices and pathway. I probably would not have had the same opportunity at a larger institution, where open-door policies would not have been the norm for faculty.”
Beyond social theory and psychology, Jolene’s Beloit education taught her critical, independent thinking and how to defend her beliefs, conduct research, and discuss what she was reading. She also learned to challenge herself and to understand and address her own biases.
The small class sizes at Beloit and the interactions they afforded were also invaluable. “I was challenged to be active in class, no matter which class I took. None of my classes failed to challenge me and none were pointless.”
Furthermore, there was plenty to learn outside of class, both on campus and off.
“I served as an RA (residential assistant) for two years. That gave me responsibility and forced me to confront problems my peers were having individually and with each other.” The experience built her confidence and prepared her for the professional work she does today as an FBI special agent.
“Whether you are an RA or an FBI investigator, the work requires that you examine a situation, analyze the problem, decide on next steps, and look for a solution.”
Jolene was also busy off-campus. Formal internships led her to work in probation and parole and in a homeless shelter. Summer funding from the College covered her airfare and expenses when she worked for three weeks in a Tallahassee, Fla., homeless shelter. “I picked Tallahassee because I wanted to see another part of the country while continuing to gain practical experience.” The work confirmed her desire to pursue a career at the intersection of the legal system and psychology.
Following graduation, Jolene moved again, this time to New York City to study forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. At the time, John Jay offered the U.S.’s only graduate program in that subject. The program gave her the training and additional experience she’d need to land a job as a forensic psychologist.
“When I moved to Philadelphia to stay with a friend who lived there, I came across a newspaper want ad for a forensic psychologist. Little did I know that the job required working with sex offenders in psychiatric hospitals and prisons who needed therapy and treatment. But the job fit given my internships in Beloit, my undergraduate studies, and an internship while at John Jay doing competency evaluations at the Kings County psychiatric jail.”
Jolene would spend over a half dozen years working with sex offenders at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Lino Lakes. She also applied to the FBI academy. Twice.
“The first time I applied I didn’t get it. But I kept working and acquiring experience and was successful the second time.”
Hoping to be accepted into the FBI’s behavioral analysis program, she instead began working on crimes against children; her comfort level working with both male and female sex offenders had paved the way.
Upon graduation from the academy, Jolene ranked Alaska as her number one choice for a field office posting. She’s been there ever since. “I wanted to go somewhere new again, and thought I’d stay three to five years.” Her initial stay has clearly been extended, in part because of her marriage to an Anchorage police officer who works on the same kinds of cases as she.
“I primarily investigate crimes against children, such as sex trafficking, pornography, and kidnapping, although I’ve also worked on three serial killer cases. My job has me working with behavioral analysts, which is in keeping with my initial interest in that area of the FBI’s work. I like that I’m required to see offenders as whole persons, connected to families and larger social contexts.”
Looking back, Jolene very much credits the work she does today to her education at Beloit College. She also advises current and future Beloiters to take advantage of as many opportunities as they can to obtain practical experience off campus.
“Volunteer. Do special projects. Intern. Those practical experiences will put you a step ahead of others once you graduate from Beloit. They will set you apart from students whose only world as undergraduates was their college campus. And don’t get discouraged. Keep trying!”