You’d expect to see a gathering of Keuka College alumni at classmate’s wedding reception or a college athletics event. But in the local probation department? Yet that’s the case in Yates County, where six Keuka College alumni are working in the same place with the same goal: to help give people a second chance.

While the number of years on the job vary—from six months to 20 years—probation officers Amy Gelder ’94, Brittany Heysler ’15 M’17, Tanya Hubbard ’09, Alyssa Prince ’16 M’19, and Lynda Rossi ’96, and probation assistant Craig Pahl ’16, all call the Yates County Probation Department in Penn Yan their professional home.

“The relationship between the college and the probation department is an outstanding example of how the college and surrounding community engage in partnerships to meet our respective needs,” says Dr. Janine Bower, professor of criminology/criminal justice. 

Working to Better Others

In recent years, Keuka College students have completed internships with the probation office, and made a contribution to the department while gaining skills and experience, says Bower.

“It is easy to see what a significant, positive impact their experiences, under the supervision of (Director of Yates County Probation Department) Sharon Dawes, have made in their professional development,” says Bower, who had four of the six alumni in her classes.

And for Heysler, working with her fellow Keuka College alumni is fun.

“Although our experiences varied depending on when we were enrolled, we all have a sense of connection that was fostered by both Keuka College professors and staff,” she says.

While working together is fun, each of the Keuka College alums takes their job seriously, and each was drawn to the profession for the opportunity to support someone on the road to a better life.

“A probation officer is a peace officer who supervises individuals who have been sentenced to probation,” says Alyssa. “Each client is given orders and conditions of probation from the court, and it is our job to hold them accountable and make sure they are in compliance with those conditions.”

To ensure compliance, the probation officers meet with clients regularly, refer them to programs within the community, and track their progress.

Gelder, who also serves as the domestic violence liaison, says her job includes supervising people who have been sentenced to probation, as well as preparing reports for criminal and family courts.

The Right Path

“Helping people find the right path to keep them from committing additional crimes and staying sober” is what Amy likes about her job. It’s the chance to direct at-risk youth, teens, and young adults to making better life choices that drew Hubbard into the profession.

“Sometimes, we as probation officers are the only positive supports people have,” says Hubbard. “To be able to guide someone in the right direction to better their lives is very rewarding.”

They get big assistance in this area from Pahl, who joined the department after aiding criminal defendants with mental health and substance problems in Ontario and Seneca Counties.

Heysler says being able to help people become better versions of themselves is why she loves her job.

“I have always been interested in working in law enforcement in some capacity because I like helping people, but I also like being able to hold them accountable,” says Heysler. “I like to help the community I live in.”

So does Pahl, who says the best part of his job is helping individuals who are ready to recover to connect with community resources and take steps toward productive, stable lives.

Field Period Credit

Before they got handed their caseloads, the Keuka College contingent all had hands-on experience. Heysler, for example, credits her Field Period experiences with helping her discover which area of law enforcement she was most interested in, and enabling her to shadow her local police department as early as her freshman year.

“I completed four very different Field Periods experiences, all within the law enforcement field, and completed my senior practicum with Ontario County’s STOP-DWI program,” she says. One of the mentors she had during those placements, fellow alumna Sue Cirencione ’95, the Ontario County STOP-DWI administrator and a former probation officer, got her thinking about probation more seriously.

Prince also credits in the real-world opportunities that Field Period® provides. She worked with the Genesee County Probation Department where she learned the duties of a probation officer. “This experience put into perspective that this is what I wanted to do with my career. During my senior year of my undergraduate studies, I was given the opportunity to complete a semester-long internship at the Yates County Probation Department. This experience further solidified that I wanted to work in probation,” she says.

It’s About Support

Sometimes, Prince adds, clients just need motivation and support to make better decisions in life. Support is what she knew she would find when she returned to Keuka College for her master’s degree. “Dr. Janine Bower was a role model of mine going through school. I continue to look up to her knowledge and professionalism,” she says.

Heysler agrees, adding that Dr. Bower “was a huge influence on me during my time at Keuka College. She’s incredibly smart and knowledgeable, and I aspire to be like her.”