Teaching What Matters

Lisa Leduc, professor of criminal justice, has taught at UMPI since 2002.  To this day, she remembers advice that a colleague gave her.  He said, “If you believe in transformation through education, this is where you’re going to see that happen.”  For 14 years, Leduc has seen her students transform into critical thinkers.  They form bonds that have gone beyond the classroom.  Her students’ experiences will help them succeed long after they graduate.

Leduc’s passion for criminal justice began early in her life.  When she was 10 years old, her sister got engaged to a police officer.  Leduc decided that she wanted to be a police officer as well.  Years later, she attended a community college in Canada, where she lived.  She earned an associate degree in law enforcement.

Later, Leduc enrolled at the University of Ottawa.  She decided to earn her bachelor’s in criminology.  She wanted to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  RCMP is Canada’s national police force.  While at Ottawa, Leduc learned more about the criminal justice system.  She realized that she didn’t want to spend her life putting people into that system.

In 1990, Leduc earned her bachelor’s degree from Ottawa.  Canadian universities, she said, give three-year degrees.  Then students have the option of taking an “honor’s year.”  Leduc decided to take an honor’s year.  She did not know what aspect of criminal justice she wanted to pursue.  She enjoyed taking small seminar classes.  Her professors encouraged her to go to graduate school.  Leduc earned her master’s degree in criminology in 1992.  Her graduate school years became a turning point in her career.

“When I did my master’s, they asked me if I wanted to teach a course,” Leduc said.  “With that first course, a big lightbulb went off.  ‘This is what I want to do.’”

For 10 years, Leduc taught part time at two universities in Canada.  Then she decided to make a change.  She still wanted to teach at a university.  But she wanted to teach smaller classes.  Many of her classes in Canada had numerous students.  Leduc said that her smallest class in Canada had around 700 students.  She barely knew any of her students.  She wanted to form greater connections with the students she taught.

Around that same time, UMPI had an opening in the criminal justice program.  Leduc moved to the U.S. in 2002 to start her UMPI career.  During her first year, she had another big achievement.  She earned her doctoral degree in sociology from Carleton University.  Since then, Leduc has taught classes on many topics.  Those topics include restorative justice and punishment and corrections.  She also teaches classes about domestic violence and women and crime.

Leduc has one piece of advice for aspiring criminal justice majors.  UMPI’s criminal justice program is not like what they see on TV.  Students do not learn how to shoot guns and drive fast.  Instead, they read and write about criminal justice issues.  They also do oral class presentations.  Even police officers, Leduc said, spend a lot of time at their desks.  They write reports and grants.  Their job does not always involve crime scenes or arrests.

“We’re constantly reinforcing those ‘soft skills,’” Leduc said.  “Can you write?  Can you talk to people?  Can you get along with people?  Not ‘Can you take down a 300 pound unruly arrestee?’  You don’t have to necessarily use your body.  But you need to be able to use your mind.”

Leduc also started the criminal justice program’s service learning courses.  All criminal justice students complete three service learning projects.  They partner with a community nonprofit or agency.  The project always relates to the course topic.

This semester, domestic violence is the service learning topic.  In the past, students have worked with the Hope and Justice Project in Presque Isle.  They’ve done fundraisers and research.  Last fall, students took a restorative justice course.  They worked on a project for the Maine Prisoners Advocacy Coalition.

“I often think of the service learning project as another textbook,” Leduc said.  “I think that reinforces the fact that what they’re learning is important.”

The service learning projects are also great for Leduc.  Often, she reunites with former students.  Sometimes they’ve become local police officers.  Others work for community agencies.  Leduc enjoys getting to know all her students.

“I know all my students by name.  I still have relationships with students who have graduated many years ago.  They still check in on me or I’ll visit them,” Leduc said.

Leduc’s students admire her teaching style.  Ted Gilliam is a senior at UMPI.  He plans to attend law school after he graduates.  He said he has learned to think more critically about criminal justice issues.

“Whether she is explaining a concept, discussing a current event or planning a service learning experience, Dr. Leduc’s passion and scholarship shines through,” Gilliam said.  “Her vast knowledge and personal conviction add some reality to the material.”

Idella Thompson is also a criminal justice senior at UMPI.  She has learned many lessons from Leduc’s classes.  She will carry those lessons into her future career.

“Pay attention to detail, manage your time effectively and never give up on a project even if it may take longer than you had originally thought,” Thompson said.  “Dr. Leduc truly cares about each one of her students and wants everyone to succeed.”

Kim-Anne Perkins, professor of social work at UMPI, was on the search committee that hired Leduc in 2002.  She thinks Leduc has been a great asset to the criminal justice program.

“We were incredibly fortunate when Dr. Leduc was hired,” Perkins said.  “She is an excellent colleague who works not only for her program and students, but for the institution.”

During her career, Leduc has worked with students from many backgrounds.  Some are the first member of their family to attend college.  They enter the program with different views on criminal justice.  But Leduc thinks that all her students have one thing in common.  They graduate from UMPI as different people from who they were as freshmen.

“They open their minds, they have different viewpoints, they have different experiences,” Leduc said.  “I really see a difference with our students by their experiences here in the classroom with me or just being on campus and meeting different people.”

Like other UMPI students, Leduc’s students leave the campus community.  They graduate and move on to greater opportunities.  But she can always count on one thing.  She knows that she’s made a difference in her students’ lives.  And she’s given them tools to make a difference in their own communities.