Double Booked: Student officers balance patrol and courses

Chris Gearhart is an undergraduate student at GW pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He attends class, does his homework, studies for tests and tries his best to get good grades.

But Gearhart, a full-time University Police Department officer, is not your typical undergrad.

“I decided that going to school and being an officer would be beneficial because I wouldn’t have to pay for school because of the tuition benefits for one, and I’d be gaining work experience,” Gearhart said.

Because of his employment, he only has to pay for 4 percent of his tuition. Gearhart is a part-time student, but would not discuss his graduation year or age because he was worried it would undermine his authority as an officer.

Balancing academics and a job can be tough at times, Gearhart said, but he manages to get by and does it with pride.

And Gearhart is not alone. UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said that 15 to 20 percent of UPD officers are also taking classes at GW, though most are in graduate programs.

While being a student and an officer can be time consuming, Gearhart said that both roles are closely related and contribute to his own self-improvement.

“If the students come to me complaining and stuff it helps me empathize with what they’re going through with tests, and the stress of finals, and professors stressing them out,” he said.

But interacting with students is not just about Gearhart understanding the life of a college kid. The officer said he also hopes that being a good role model in class will help improve the image of UPD.

“(The students) might see me out in uniform and they might feel comfortable talking to me about their problems, or they might just want to talk to me about the weather or sports,” Gearhart said.

For Brian Gallagher, splitting time between the life of an officer and his graduate coursework is not as easy. Gallagher works as a full-time UPD officer and plans to graduate from GW in December 2009 with a master’s degree in forensic science.

“You go to work and it’s hard sometimes to balance because work can be demanding at times but so can school, especially around midterms and finals,” the 23-year-old said.

Though his life as a student and a UPD officer are intertwined, Gallagher said it is important to maintain a certain decorum, even around friends.

“You want to be able to make friends but you also want to be able to hold your position of authority,” he said.

As a UPD officer, Christine Pucillo works from 10:45 p.m. to 7:15 a.m. With that schedule, the 23-year-old graduate student never misses a class, though there is usually little time for socializing.

Like Gallagher, Pucillo is also working towards a master’s degree in forensic sciences.

While wearing her uniform late at night, Pucillo said she still keeps her graduate classes in mind.

She said, “It’s actually surprising how much I pull from my work and from my academic studies to do the other.”

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