Plymouth Voices: Professor Laura Dykstra

Emily Davis


Staff Writer


Laura Dykstra is one of the many criminal justice professors here on campus. She predominantly teaches first-year student classes such as Criminal Justice in Action, however, she also teaches Senior Seminar. This means that she gets to watch many of her students grow from the start to end of their time here at Plymouth State which is an extraordinary experience. In her interview, Dykstra talks about her love of teaching, and how students can find success in her classes. 

What classes are you teaching next semester?

Next semester, I am teaching our Criminal Justice Senior Seminar class, which is a capstone class for the Criminology major. I’m teaching Explaining Crime, which is an upper-level theory class, which is like an applied theory class, and I’m teaching a special topics class called Sex Reproduction and the Law.

 How can a student best succeed in your classes?

I once asked a class of mine that had several students in it, who had taken classes with me before. It was like the beginning of the semester. You know, I was getting a lot of questions at the beginning of the semester. Students had questions about the syllabus, and we’re asking questions about the class and stuff. One student asked, What kind of person are you? So I punted it to the students who were sitting in the class who would have me before I was like, oh, no, you know. What kind of grader are you? He goes, she really likes it when you follow directions. I will totally cop to that. When I write like a paper prompt, or something like that I usually base the rubric like right off of the paper prompt. Everything in that prompt has points attached to it, and if students answer the whole question, or address the whole prompt, then they’ll usually think of it like a really linear thinker. And so he’s right. I really like that.

How long have I been teaching?

So I’ve been teaching here since 2014. But I taught at the University of Maryland before that. So I’ve been teaching probably since about 2008, maybe 2009. I don’t remember, I have lost count, I don’t even know anymore. It feels like my whole adult life.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

When I first went to college, I thought that I wanted to be an FBI profiler. So I was really interested in areas where criminal justice overlapped with other things like psychology. I carried two majors as an undergrad and criminal justice and psychology. I was looking a lot at federal law enforcement and I thought that was what I wanted to do, but I always knew that I would need a graduate degree in order to do that. I think sometime in undergrad, it just kind of shifted for me. I realized that I didn’t want to be in a position where if you get promoted, that could mean moving across the country and uprooting your family. I wanted a job where I didn’t feel like I would have to worry about bringing the job home to my kids, like something that would be hard to leave behind when you’re off the clock. That was when things started to move for me a little bit and I got much more interested in teaching and education and talking to my own professors. 

Would you only teach criminal justice classes or would you start to branch out?

Some of the classes that I teach are cross-listed between criminal justice and sociology. The special topics class that I’m teaching next semester actually counts not only towards our criminal justice major, it also counts for the women’s studies minor. When I teach women in crime that counts for the women’s studies minor as well. So there are classes that I teach that are not, in my opinion, sort of strictly criminology or criminal justice. I think, because of my background, I tend to bring in other disciplines just because that’s the educational background that I have.

If you had to teach any other classes in the future, what would you teach?

 If I were to create a new class, I would love to create a class on like, sex crimes or like sex and deviance. That is like a long-term dream I have. We don’t really have the resources to create a new class like that right now but I would love to create that class in the future and teach it.

Out of all the classes you teach, or have taught, what one is your favorite one to teach?

I love teaching the profiling class because that is a class that I created. I just think it’s like such a cool, fun subject matter. It’s not required like the students don’t have to take it. So usually students like to self-select, enjoy it, because they think the material is exciting and that means that you usually have a good class of excited students. The other class I really enjoy a lot is the Senior Seminar and I think part of the reason why I like it so much is because I often teach intro. I get students when they’re first coming, so the senior seminar becomes really great. 

How do you think you inspire your students?

 I think in a lot of ways being a teacher, which is how I would describe myself, right, like when people asked me what I do, I’m like, Well, I’m a teacher because the saying college professor always just sounds slightly pretentious to me to do that. We as teachers invest so much time, energy, love, and even worry into our students. We watch students grow but you know, you’re probably never going to get to see that fully bloom. It’s amazing when students come back after graduating to tell me, this is what I’m doing now. With those cases,  I’m able to see them fully become a person. We as teachers have to be eternal optimists because we see possibilities in all of our students. We just pour everything that we have into possibilities and sort of hope they take root. I just hope students feel that for me. Sometimes I wish I could get a do over because I have fallen short. I want so badly for my students to be successful. I hope that the inspiration comes from knowing that we all care and want to help. 

Next semester Dykstra will be teaching Criminal Justice Senior Seminar, Explaining Crime, and Sex, Reproduction, and the Law. She can usually be found in her office which is located in the Mary Lyon basement.