Criminal Justice Graduate Hopes for Career as U.S. Marshal
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – MAY 11, 2012 – Brownsville native Graciela Balli anticipates she will be smiling broadly as she walks across the Commencement stage to receive her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College on Saturday, May 19.
Balli said receiving her diploma will make her family proud, especially since she will hold the family’s first college degree.
“My parents have been so supportive and encouraging,” she said. “They are giving me a class ring for graduation, and I will wear it with all their love and good wishes.”
This summer, Balli will pack her bags, say goodbye to her parents, two younger brothers and friends, and drive to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where she has been accepted to work on her master’s in criminal justice and criminology.
“I have been interested in this subject for a long time, even studying it at Hanna,” said Balli, who graduated from Brownsville Hanna High School in 2008. “And it has nothing to do with all the TV crime and CSI shows. In fact, I don’t really like those shows – they make it look too easy, they’re not realistic.”
Balli got a taste of realism this past semester while fulfilling her required 120-hour internship working at a Brownsville halfway house for parolees.
“The internship is designed to expose students to career situations,” Balli said. “I observed, took notes and helped out in the office any way they needed. Actually, I did a lot of listening. Residents would sometimes feel more confident in talking to me than to an outsider. But I wasn’t permitted to ask questions of a sensitive nature, due to confidentiality regulations.”
Balli’s plan is to find work as a probation officer in Huntsville while she is pursuing her master’s degree.
“Parole work is all about integrating people back into society,” she said. “The focus in probation work is to help them stay on the right track and avoid any more run-ins with the law and hopefully help them avoid incarceration.”
Balli credits the faculty of the Department of Criminal Justice, especially Dr. Susan Ritter, Associate Professor, and Anastasia Lawrence, Lecturer, for her successful completion of her degree.
“Professor Lawrence has been a strong influence in my life,” she said. “She has shown me there are professors who love to teach. She went above and beyond to see us succeed.”
Balli reflected on her first semester at the university when she began classes with a newly broken ankle. Her foot was in a cast, and she was walking on crutches for most of the semester.
“That fall it rained almost every day, and when it wasn’t raining, it was hot and humid. Most of the time students were kind enough to hold an umbrella and walk me from one class to another on those rainy days, but sometimes I wasn’t so lucky. Even in crutches I managed to get to class on time. And the best part of all – it kept me from gaining the ‘freshman 15.’”
Another challenge that remained throughout her four years at UTB was transportation.
“My car broke down and was sold,” Balli remembered. “I’ve had to ask friends, coworkers and my grandmother for rides to and from school every day, but everyone was very helpful, and it all worked out. I would advise students to persevere when they hit bumps in the road, whether in classes or things like transportation, and to give your best and never take a single class for granted.”
Paying for school was a juggling act, she said, but she managed with the Pell Grant and the Texas Grant. Balli worked 20 hours a week on campus as part of the Student Employment Initiative, answering calls for Internet Technology online support services.
This past semester, she received a financial boost by receiving the William Van Wilkinson Scholarship Endowment for Criminal Justice that was created by a former Chair of the Criminal Justice Department, Dr. William Van Wilkinson, and his wife, Linda, prior to his death in May 2006.
“I am grateful to have received this scholarship,” Balli said. “I hope someday I’ll be able to do the same to help students pursue their studies and go on to successful careers of their choice. As for me, I’ve got my sights set on joining the U.S. Marshal Service. That’s where I want to work.”