Graduation from Indiana University East this year was an extra special accomplishment for Michigan native Rico Butler – his criminal justice degree completed a promise he had made to his father who has since passed away.
“Obtaining a college degree is a huge accomplishment in my family,” Butler said. “And before my father passed away, I promised him I would graduate with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. So completing this meant so much to me because it made me feel I fulfilled that promise.” The promise was made when Rico was a senior in high school. His father – also Rico Butler — passed away in December eight years ago, which was about a year after their conversation.
Butler is a native of Muskegon, Michigan, though his parents relocated to South Bend, Indiana, in 1996. He attended IU South Bend in person for some classes before learning about IU East’s robust online program. Signing up for online courses at IU East allowed him to continue working while completing the degree. He continues to work in the sanitation department in the City of South Bend as he progresses toward becoming a police officer.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I have always been interested in law enforcement – ‘saving the world’ and helping people,” he said. He felt he could provide hope and better life perspectives for people going through “the worst of the worst.”
He believes he can make a difference as a police officer, realizing that they sometimes are or can be portrayed as “the bad guys. I believe I can make a change and give the community hope – you can trust me as a police officer.” He also sees many teens in trouble in his city. “A lot of times, I feel like they have no direction.”
Butler’s goal is to complete the Indiana Police Academy and begin serving as a role model. “Everyone has an opportunity in life to excel, and if I can help them excel, I will do just that.” Other careers he considered including becoming a judge, a crime scene investigator or a private investigator – but always with the criminal justice connection.
His experience as an online IU East student working full time was “incomparable. When I needed help, they were literally there, no matter the time of day.” When a series of deaths in his family came in sequence, he found much support and understanding from his professors and the IU East staff. They worked with him to be sure he was able to make up or keep up in class.
Just before the Commencement Ceremony in May 2021, a mix-up concerning the time of a pre-graduation COVID-19 test had numerous staff members watching for him when rushing to IU East from South Bend trying to get the test and still make his graduation. “I was greeted by everyone, who knew I had rushed from South Bend. That was a great experience.”
He also appreciated the patience of his teachers as he struggled at times with some of the software he had to learn along the way. “Various instructors had patience with me, took the time to help me and worked with me until I understood. Now, when I work with individuals and training others, I always remember to have patience – the same patience that was shown to me.
“IU truly meets you where you are and never makes you feel less than or incompetent compared to others around. Rather you prefer big class sizes or small, online or in-person, IU can help,” Butler said.
His criminal justice classes gave him the training and experience he believes has prepared him for the career he hopes to launch soon. “IU East really helped me to tune into what I really wanted to do in the criminal justice field. It also helped me to understand how profound criminal justice really is. I’m walking into this process of being a police officer with so much knowledge — at this point I’m just really ready to gain experience.”