With thirty scholarships and $15,000 raised in five years, no one can say the Roundup for Scholarships event isn’t an inspiring success. The event, held last night at the Rend Lake Resort in Whittington, raises money for students enrolled in the college’s Criminal Justice program.
Every year, the fundraiser brings in approximately $3,000 – enough for at least six students to receive financial help for classes in the criminal justice program. This year, eight students received scholarships after a successful event last year. Two of those students were on hand to speak about the importance of the scholarship in their lives.
Alexus Johnson of Bluford said, “This scholarship will help me out a lot, because I didn’t know how I would afford my education. My dad has been a single parent to four kids, and it’s sometimes been a struggle. He’s taught me to respect authority, and I really do appreciate what [law enforcement] does. They go out there every day and they do what they have to, to protect us.”
Fellow classmate Megan Kluck of Bluford added that her instructor, and event host, Ron Meek was her inspiration for getting into the criminal justice field. Kluck is currently working on a criminal justice and nursing degree, with plants to work in corrections.
Meek, now in his seventh year as RLC’s Criminal Justice Associate Professor, has headed the event for the last five years. He attributed the success of the fundraiser, and in turn his students, to the attendees who continue give back.
“We’ve awarded about 30 scholarships since we started, and I’m very proud of that and what we’ve been able to do,” said Meek. “It’s opened doors and helped provide higher education to some very great students, so thank you all for being a part of that.”
Meek also addressed changes in RLC’s Criminal Justice program over the five years. One big step was to work with Missouri Baptist University (MBU) to provide students a way to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Through MBU, over a dozen students have taken their associate degree from RLC and earned a higher degree, without ever leaving campus. This, he said, leads to keeping graduates and potential-employees working and living in the area.
He also touched on RLC’s cyber forensics degree, which began in the Fall of 2014 as a way to move students into the future of law enforcement and cybercrime. The certificate program blends the functions of a computer technician and criminal investigator together by teaching students the legal and technical limits of a forensic search of a digital system.
Other changes and advancements include firearms training and Illinois Concealed Carry training on campus at the new RLC Shooting Range. Recently, the program has also begun offering active shooter training to college faculty and staff, and looks to offer the training to locals and businesses. Changes for the future, Meek said, include scenario-based training on campus for criminal justice students.
Those student recipients, parents, and donors in attendance also received congratulations and words of thanks from six speakers during the event. First was RLC President Terry Wilkerson, who acknowledged donors for going above and beyond.
“I appreciate your efforts to be here tonight. You’re all very busy people, but you made time for our students. It’s been that way since I was a student at Rend Lake. We continue to come full circle, so thank you for being here tonight,” said Wilkerson.
RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron also thanked patrons in the audience, specifically commending Meek for his dedication to students outside of the classroom.
“We, as community members, should all be proud of the top-quality workforce and students Rend Lake College is producing, thanks to your support of scholarships and fundraisers like these. We want you to see a return on your investment,” said Zibby-Damron. “Mr. Ron Meek already gives of his time and talents in the classroom, I applaud him for also being out in the community to help raise money for his students. He sees, firsthand, the importance of scholarships, and I know you all do as well. Thank you for supporting our students.”
Judge Jo Beth Weber, Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge and Resident Judge of Jefferson County, spent her time addressing the audience by relating to the student recipients. As a student, Weber said she sat in the same seats as the first-generation college student in her family.
“When you come to an event like this, there are a lot of people who need help going to school, and I was one of those people. It was a lofty goal for me to think about going to college, let alone law school,” said Weber. “I took advantage of programs that had scholarships available based on need, and here I am today, current circuit judge of Jefferson County and running for the Appellate Court. I’m here tonight to thank you all for contributing to this scholarship for these students.”
Chief Chris Deichman of the Mt. Vernon Police Department, and RLC alum, said the scholarships not only help students work on their degrees, but also provide graduates for his department to invest time and money on in the future.
“Law enforcement is not a real popular place to be right now, so for those of you who have chosen that career path, I commend you. For parents of these recipients, you should be proud that your children have chosen the career path they have chosen,” said Deichman. “In Mt. Vernon, we take the approach to work with Rend Lake College and the students here. We want to have every Rend Lake College graduate work for us who wants to. Every time we come to campus and teach or present for a day, I feel like we are building up our own department, and that’s a great thing.”
Another RLC graduate, Jefferson County Sheriff Travis Allen, agreed with Deichman, adding his own experiences with the college’s criminal justice program.
“One of the best investments you can make is into education. Rend Lake College opened doors for me and opened my eyes to new opportunities. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be standing here today as the Sheriff of this county if I had not attended Rend Lake College,” said Allen. “Programs like the Criminal Justice Department here, they change lives and they changed mine. I will always have a special place in my heart for Rend Lake College. Thank you all for being involved in an event like this.”
Illinois State Senator Gary Forby also congratulated the donors for giving back to their community. He said, “We’re all here to make sure we do our part. We’ve got to take care of our young people and senior citizens.”
Hors d’oeuvres were served during the event by the Rend Lake Resort. Performing before the program was Rebecca Curry on the violin.
To learn more about RLC’s Criminal Justice program, visit www.rlc.edu/programs-and-degrees/113-criminal-justice, or contact Meek at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1239 or [email protected].