Criminal Justice Corrections Program Director knows successful law enforcement careers begin in the classroom
“The professional standards we teach our Criminal Justice (Corrections) students are what they are going to have to carry on in the rest of their careers – what they learn in school they will project in the job,” says George Hernandez, Criminal Justice Corrections Program Director on the Visalia campus.
In the seven years that Mr. Hernandez has taught the Criminal Justice Corrections program on the Hanford and Visalia campuses, that is the most important concept his students can embrace. “Professionalism begins in the classroom, but has to be maintained their entire life,” he says. “Whether on duty or off duty, we’re held to a higher standard and have to be on our toes all the time.”
And what happens if a student doesn’t project that level of professionalism? “If I see a student who doesn’t seem to fit the mold of what a law enforcement officer should be, I will try to mold them into what they need to be, into that level of integrity before they leave here,” he says.
It is that kind of straight talk and commitment to student success that inspires his students to give it all they’ve got to do well in their program. “I have students from years ago still in touch with me and keeping me up [to date] on how their careers are going,” says Hernandez.
He has found that one of the best ways to prepare his Criminal Justice students for the world of law enforcement is to give them the benefit of his own on-the-job experiences. And working his way up from patrol officer to manager of the detective division over 29 years has given him plenty of material for any possible situation they might encounter in their own careers.
“What has the greatest impact on students are real-life experiences,” he says. “A story helps students to understand the application of what they’re learning. It transfers that experience into their frame of reference.”
Hernandez is not just a storyteller. He balances textbook studies with physical training that includes hand-to-hand defense tactics, handcuffing techniques, baton training and take-down methodologies – to name a few. Drills and rigorous physical training are an integral part of the curriculum.
“The physical aspect is key to your survival in law enforcement,” he says. “You never know when you’re going to get into an altercation.” Being on the right side of the law means that you must be prepared to challenge anyone who is not.
The Criminal Justice Corrections program prepares graduates to work in county jails, zero detention facilities, security companies and – after completion of the CA Department of Corrections’ academy – state corrections facilities.
George Hernandez never really planned to be a teacher, except for the one-on-one instruction he was required to provide new hires at the Hanford Police Department, where he worked until he retired recently. The Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology/Law Enforcement he earned in 1987 served him well in that capacity.
But in 2010 when his department received a letter from SJVC’s Hanford campus looking for an instructor for their Criminal Justice Corrections program, he decided to apply. It was a natural fit. “As a former officer of the law, Mr. Hernandez represents the core values of the College in his daily interactions with students, staff and faculty,” says Ben Almaguer, Visalia Campus Director.
“Once I got in the classroom, it was very comfortable and I found it very satisfying and rewarding,” he says. After a few years he moved to the Visalia campus, and when the Criminal Justice Corrections Program Director position became available, he was the perfect choice to head up the program. George’s favorite moments are still in the classroom.
“I never thought that being an educator would be a career I’d end up in,” he says. “It’s something I’ve really come to love. It’s so rewarding to me that I’m having an impact on students now for their futures.”
“Student feedback resounds an overwhelming appreciation to how Mr. Hernandez treats his students with respect and [provides] meaningful life lessons,” says Almaguer.
His career trajectory is the prototype he offers his own students. “I use myself as an example,” he says. “I came from farm labor and packing plants, and in high school, I worked on ranches. I applied myself in school and worked 16-hour days on weekends to go to the Academy (police) during the week. I worked hard to get to where I’m at.”
When he left high school, he had no plans to go to college. But his parents wanted something better for him and his two brothers and sister. “[My dad] and mom always encouraged education, but never pushed,” says George. All four siblings graduated college and now have successful careers.
George and his wife Tracey (who works at SJVC’s Central Administrative Office) have raised four children, ranging in age from 12 to 27, with the same loving support he and his siblings received. “All I ask of our kids is that they find their place in life and do something to be productive members of society.”
Hernandez has similar advice for his students. “I tell them, ‘You can be successful if you apply yourself. You will find obstacles along the way, but the return you get is going to be greater than the sacrifices you made. You have to start planning now for the future; it doesn’t come to you.’”
At 54 years old, retired from the Police Department and heading up the Criminal Justice Corrections program, George is in the right place to offer not just career advice, but valuable life suggestions.
George’s perspective comes from a strong position. “I would say life is very good right now.”
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