Student Stories: Julia Rigney

Julia Rigney

Major: Justice Studies

Julia Rigney was living in Virginia when she decided to attend College of DuPage.

“I had tried college right out of high school and it did not work for me,” she said. “I met a group of friends in Illinois while online gaming. They talked about COD and how great their experience was. I decided to return as a non-traditional college student and I am so glad that I did. It definitely had its challenges but it was worth it.” 

Rigney initially wanted to go into the medical field but realized she was squeamish when it came to blood.

“I did not have a backup plan, but a few of my friends had taken Justice Studies classes at College of DuPage with Professor Eric Thompson, and they raved about what a great professor he was,” she said. “I decided to sign up for Intro to Justice Studies, and after that first class I knew it was the field I wanted to pursue.”

While at COD, she had the opportunity to intern with Instructor Stacie Haen-Darden at the Illinois Youth Center Warrenville, where COD launched a pilot program to offer courses to IYC Warrenville youth. Rigney ran weekly study halls where she helped students with their homework and guided them through weekly journaling exercises. What she thought would simply be a resume builder turned out to be a life-formative experience, she said.

“One of the most rewarding experiences that I had was watching the students excel and go from not believing they could go to college to wanting to pursue a college career,” she said. “Many of the students just need someone to believe in them and their ability to succeed. The most important lesson this experience has taught me is that we as a society cannot put a high enough value on human life.

“After the first day in the classroom, I knew I could see myself teaching. The criminal justice field is so broad, having the opportunity to be an intern really helped me decide exactly what I want to do in the criminal justice field.”

Rigney also received the Global Justice Study Abroad Scholarship through the COD Foundation, which enabled her to take a class studying correctional facilities in the U.S. and Great Britain. The course included travel to London.

“As a student, it is easy to read that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed, but to go out and actually experience why it needs to be reformed was an invaluable learning experience,” she said. “The scholarship helped me gain an understanding of our justice system, England’s justice system and, through class assignments, an even a broader global justice system as we talked about the systems of many countries. I also learned the importance of crime deterrence, the importance of creating competent policy and ways of reducing recidivism.

“The experiences that I had not only made me a better student and a better future professional but also an overall more informed citizen. I wish that I was able to have this experience every year. Professor Theodore Darden does an excellent job at making sure each year is different and filled with more learning opportunities so no two trips are the same.”

Rigney earned three degrees at COD: an Associate in Applied Science in Justice Studies, an Associate in Arts and an Associate in General Studies. She also was recognized for Academic Excellence by Discipline for Justice Studies.

“I was the first in my family to graduate high school and college,” she said. “Graduating was not only a personal goal for me but also a promise that I made to my mom before she passed away from cancer. Her dream was to see me get a college degree. I am glad that I had the opportunity to keep that promise times three!” 

Rigney is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., and would like to teach classes to incarcerated youth. 

“After seeing the impact that access to education had on the students at IYC Warrenville, I knew that teaching would be a worthwhile career, especially in the lives of such an underserved population,” she said. “Professor Haen-Darden’s passion for teaching and for her students’ success, mine included, made me want to be that person for another student. She’s not only a great professor but also a great mentor.”

Her advice to students considering the Justice Studies program at COD is to take advantage of all opportunities.

“Apply for scholarships to study abroad, go to class, join a club, go to discussion panels, engage with the people around you, and say ‘Yes!’” Rigney said. “There are so many unique opportunities at COD, take advantage of as many as you can. Most importantly, do not get discouraged and be kind to yourself. Are some classes harder than others? Absolutely. In the challenging times and during the tough assignments, remember that those are the experiences that are going to help make you a better person and the best professional in your field.

“I would like to thank all of the professors that I had at COD, the COD Foundation, my former co-workers in Access and Accommodations and the entire COD staff for making my college experience better than I could have imagined. COD will always hold a special place in my heart. Each person made a difference in my life and will always be a part of my story.”

More about the Justice Studies program