Maryville Public Safety Director Keith Wood never pictured himself as a college teacher. Just goes to show one never knows where the future will lead.
Wood, who has spent more than two decades as a police officer, said he was at first unsure about leading the upper-level class after being asked to fill in for University Police Chief Clarence Green, who has spent the past several months serving as interim vice president of human resources.
Green regularly teaches criminology, an elective psychology/sociology course that focuses on counseling, corrections and law enforcement.
"I told my students on the opening night of class that I had good news and bad news," said Wood, who as the head of Public Safety acts as both police chief and fire chief for the city of Maryville. "The good news is I'm not a college professor. The bad news is I'm not a college professor."
Some of the students taking the course, including senior Blake Bledsoe, are hoping to go into law enforcement as a profession, and Bledsoe said Wood accepted a mentor's role in offering advice about potential careers.
"I have thought about the FBI, and Keith has kind of been an advisor to me about it, telling me what path to take," he said.
In class, Wood presented both case studies and cited examples from his own long experience. He brought in a retired private investigator, who helped the students explore homicide investigation techniques, and led a field trip to the Maryville Treatment Center, a local prison for offenders whose crimes are tied to substance abuse.
"Some of the convicts had a full lifestyle there, so they felt like they were accomplishing more in the Treatment Center than in jail," Blesdoe said. "They’re trained in a specific area so when they’re released, they are qualified for a job. A lot of convicts aren’t able to work, which sends them back into the circle of crime."
Another student, senior psychology/sociology major McKenzie Brown, said she appreciated Wood's hands-on approach.
"It has been an eye-opening experience to hear the criminals' side of it and understand why they behave the way they do," Brown said. "Talking with people who have been accused of crimes and put in jail has really rounded out my education in sociology."
Wood often began class sessions with a discussion about local topics, such as the proposal to raise admission age to Maryville taverns from 19 to 21.
"I let them sit in my seat mentally and think, 'OK, if the Maryville City Council asks you for a recommendation, what do you tell them?'" Wood said. "So we’ve had some real-world dialogue."
Wood said teaching the course has helped him connect to Northwest students and better understand their world. He also acknowledged that working in an academic setting opened his eyes to some of the theory behind what officers do in the field.
Page 2 of 2 - "Because of the large student-to-community ratio, a lot of what we do at Maryville Public Safety involves students," Wood said. "I think this helped me to be a little bit rooted in the day-to-day attitude and feelings of that population.
"I have always felt during my entire time in this community a strong draw to Northwest, but I think this teaching opportunity just gave me a stronger connection. I feel like I’m closer to being a part of the Northwest family."