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Higher Education and Law: The Transition from Trooper to Educator

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Interview with Terri Wilkin, JD
Program Director, Legal Studies at American Public University

Recently, we spoke with Professor Terri Wilkin, Program Director of Legal Studies at American Public University to discuss her extensive educational background and unique career transitions. For 26 years, she held a post as trooper for the Maryland State Police, and seven years ago she completed her Juris Doctorate, which led her to a career as a department prosecutor.

Q: What is your educational background?   

Professor Wilkin: Upon initially deciding on a career between the military and the state police, I chose the Maryland State Police. I wanted a job that was exciting and different every day and didn’t require me to sit behind a desk all day. At the time I had an associate degree in computer science and I wanted to make a change. So I attended the police academy and graduated in 1987. This transition was one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced, because it was an intensive, six-month paramilitary live-in academy. Upon graduation, I was assigned to patrol. I handled calls for service and traffic incidents. While working patrol, I went back to school and earned my bachelor’s degree in accounting. In 1996, I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a dual master’s degree in finance and leadership. In the fall of 2003, I entered the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law in order to prepare for a new career once I retired from the state police. Upon graduating from law school and passing the bar exams in 2007, I was admitted to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Q: What are some of the prominent roles you’ve led during your career prior to teaching?

Professor Wilkin: During my almost 26 years of service, I served in various capacities while moving up the ranks. I was assigned to the White Collar Crime Unit, the Intelligence Division, the Criminal Investigation Division, a drug enforcement task force, and the Planning and Research Division. By 1999, I was a lieutenant with the department.  I was then tapped to be the Department Prosecutor in 2004, where I served until my retirement in September 2012. It has been a rewarding career—something I could not have accomplished without my focus on higher education.

Q: You’ve transitioned from a life-long learner into teaching. What brought you to the University?

Professor Wilkin: I’ve personally experienced how a strong work ethic and a commitment to learning can create opportunity. I was interested in sharing what I’ve learned professionally with others, so in 2008, I became an adjunct professor in the Criminal Justice program at American Public University. I love teaching and I haven’t looked back. In 2009, I transitioned from law enforcement to legal education, and in 2011, I became a fulltime faculty member. I recently retired from the state police and moved to Key West, Florida where I continue to teach online. In the summer of 2012, I accepted the position of Legal Studies Program Director and today I’m proud to be helping shape career-related education for our legal studies and law enforcement communities.

As demonstrated by Professor Wilkin, education for some is a viable means to meet career development goals and prepare for a transition. Professor Wilkin’s extensive background in enforcing, practicing, and teaching law, provides both her and her students with an end-to-end perspective regarding the legal system and its governance. Her unique story is one example of the many public safety and legal professionals who are utilizing higher education to gain a comprehensive understanding of ethics and the laws they enforce every day. 

About the Author:

Terri L. Wilkin graduated from the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law in May 2007. Terri is admitted to practice law in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia, and has been admitted in the Federal United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Prior to law school, she obtained a Master of Science dual degree from the Johns Hopkins University in Leadership and Finance/Accounting. Her 26-year career with the Maryland State Police includes assignments in patrol, criminal and drug investigations, white collar crime, intelligence work, training, and as the Deputy Director of the Planning and Research Division.


Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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