McMillen proving protective service isn’t just for men

Students like Desirae McMillen are proving that it’s no longer just “a man’s world.”

McMillen is one of several female students enrolled in the Protective Services program at Warren County Career Center. And she, along with her female classmates, are thriving in what may have been considered a boy’s club of an academic environment not so long ago.

Nontraditional students in career and vocational programs are students who defy the gender expectations in both the programs being taught and the professional fields to which those programs correspond.

Programs at the WCCC like welding, autobody, and building construction have historically tended to attract mostly male students, while programs like healthcare and medical assisting and accounting have tended to draw a majority of female students. And it can be hard, said WCCC Principal Jim Evers, to overcome the associations that students have about certain programs.

But it’s important, said Evers, to do just that, not only because gender does not determine a student’s potential in any given area, but also because funding sources for vocational programs like those at WCCC look for a trend of students breaking gender barriers in the programs when considering funding.

McMillen is one of numerous students within the Warren County School District to be breaking that barrier. For McMillen, enrolling in Protective Services wasn’t a difficult choice at all.

It wouldn’t have been, she said, even if there weren’t already several girls in the program. Even, she said, if she hadn’t entered the program last year with a couple of girls she knew.

That’s because she’s passionate about working in the criminal justice field.

While she’s not entirely sure what she wants to do when she finishes high school, she’s narrowing in on pursuing a career in the “special victims” unit of law enforcement. Special victims are those victims of crime who’ve experienced either some form of sexual assault, or who need those they interact with in law enforcement to have specific skills related to their age, or certain disabilities.

McMillen has been exploring all the various niches of law enforcement in the program, however, and said she’s enjoyed all of the program’s requirements.

From learning about the United States Constitution to learning about fingerprinting, how to carry out searches and arrests, EMS support and getting her CPR certification, and forensic crime scene processing, McMillen has enjoyed it all. She also completed a job shadow with Warren County Children and Youth through a partnership between the WCCC and Warren Forest Higher Education Council.

McMillen said that she wasn’t concerned about going into the program as a female to begin with, but she was even less worried about it after she met the program’s instructor, Ben Lobdell, before the program started. “He was a little intimidating at first,” said McMillen, but after getting used to him she said even that small concern went away. “He brings a lot of experience,” said McMillen of Lobdell, who was a police officer in North Carolina and Kane before starting to teach the Protective Services program.

McMillen, who is the Protective Services Captain this year – students are ranked in the same hierarchy system that a police department would have with ranks going from Patrolman to Chief – said that the program has “definitely, definitely” prepared her to walk into her career field a few steps ahead.

“I know more about the legal system and how things run,” said McMillen. “I have a background now in the Constitution. I just feel like I’m going to walk into it know more than the average person who hasn’t taken the class.”