MARCH 29, 2022 – On March 23, 2022, three former students from the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice returned to campus to network with current students.
Presented by Alpha Phi Sigma, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society, the event was intended to show the various paths from – and to – UTSA, and how dedication and perseverance are the keys to success.
‘Runners first heard from Alma Zuñiga ’17, a reentry specialist for the Bexar County Reentry Center. Her job is to assist formerly incarcerated people adjust to life after release; she assists with tasks and activities such as iPhone tutorials, securing an ID, employment, life skills classes, government enrollment assistance, court mandated classes and more.
For Zuñiga, life as a student was far from simple. She struggled with homelessness, and when she did have temporary housing it came with problems like no water. In addition, she worked two jobs in order to provide for her mother and younger siblings.
Her experience as a student equipped her with endless empathy for the population she serves. “I do not judge anyone that comes through my doors,” Zuñiga said. “I don’t need to know what they were in for. I need to help them acclimate to life outside.”
Dustin Kilpatrick ’17 came to UTSA a little later in life – out of high school, he enlisted in the US Army. Kilpatrick spent several years here, where he volunteered for an Afghanistan deployment, collecting and analyzing threats through communications intercept. Kilpatrick was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.
Upon returning to San Antonio, Kilpatrick pursued his dream of working in law enforcement and joined the San Antonio Police Department. While working full time as a patrol officer, he took classes at UTSA.
Kilpatrick stresses that it was invaluable for him to spend time away from other police officers and to broaden his perspective. As a student in criminal justice classes, difficult topics are talked about, and as a police officer, there were times that he could have easily felt maligned. “It was really important for me to hear every side and every opinion,” Kilpatrick said. “To learn other perspectives and keep an open mind is exactly what a police officer needs.” Kilpatrick is now a homicide detective with the SAPD.
The final speaker was Ryan Todd ’18. Todd has recently finished law school and is awaiting his bar exam results. However, his path to UTSA was also marked with challenges – ones that he candidly talked to the audience about.
Before coming to UTSA, Todd battled with drug addiction and crime, bouncing in and out of jail and struggling to stay clean. It wasn’t until he hit rock bottom when he realized he needed more out of life.
Todd enrolled at UTSA after two years at Alamo Colleges and was drawn to criminal justice, but soon realized his career options were limited due to his prior convictions. “I began to really think about what I wanted to do, and I realized I wanted to help people that were in the position I was in not that long ago,” he said. “And to do that, I knew I needed to become a lawyer.”
Focused on his goal, Todd took pre-law courses and explored all the opportunities UTSA had to offer for those interested in legal studies. His acceptance and success through law school serves as a lesson to others: no matter how far down you go, you can get back up again.
The Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice will host more of these alumni panels in the future – stay tuned to the HCaP website and social media channels for more information.