Faculty profile: It’s all about people for Rod Walker: instructor combines policing, teaching

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of faculty profiles highlighting the diverse and innovative faculty at UCCS.

Rod Walker, senior instructor, Criminal Justice

Standing beside the memorial for a slain UCCS student, Instructor Rod Walker thought about the ones who loved her. Nearly two decades earlier, he had been an investigator on her case, one of the most brutal in city history.

“I still feel bad for her family and friends,” he said, “and what they went through.”

It’s a case Walker will always carry with him.

Walker supervised the Colorado Springs police homicide unit when 22-year-old Jacine Gielinski was killed in 1997, the year she was supposed to graduate. Two men kidnapped her from a parking lot, raped and tortured her before leaving her body outside an elementary school.

It’s a case Walker will always carry with him. He was on a break during classes when he found his way to her memorial, which sits at the base of a tree near the Engineering Building.

Walker, a senior instructor in the School of Public Affairs, has lived what he’s teaching in courses such as police and society, crime and violence, and homicide. He joined UCCS in 2012 after spending nearly 34 years with the police department, retiring as deputy chief.

He worked in many of the department’s units, including narcotics and vice, K-9, SWAT, bomb squad, juvenile offenders, and a specialized domestic violence team. He received a life-saving award for pulling a man from a burning car and two distinguished service awards.

Being a police veteran makes him invaluable to the university, said Terry Schwartz, associate professor emerita, who has known him for nearly 30 years. Walker not only prepares rigorous classes, she said, but helps students qualify for police academies, get ready for oral boards and asks about their professional goals.

“He is truly dedicated to his students,” Schwartz said. “He just gives his all.”

“I’m teaching them to go from an emotional look into a very scientific and investigative look.”

In class, Walker sometimes pulls from local homicide cases to show how investigations unfold, especially since they’re typically inaccurate in TV shows and movies. He may share parts of actual confessions when discussing crime theory, asking students to take on the role of detectives.

“I’m teaching them to go from an emotional look into a very scientific and investigative look. You’ve got to focus on what was said and how to put your case together,” said Walker, who directs the new Public Safety Initiative, which brings affordable training and education to law enforcement and public safety personnel in the Rocky Mountain West.

Walker, 60, knows how hard it can be to move past emotion when it comes to crime. His most rewarding police work was investigating homicides.

“It’s horrible to have to give a death notice. But seeing how the families cope and how they keep moving forward, it’s motivating. I’m in awe,” he said. “It’s a bond you have with them.”

He wanted to be a police officer since he was a boy.

His grandfather told him stories from when he was the Cedar Rapids, Nebraska, town cop in the 1930s.

His grandpa started him down the path to policing, but it was a college instructor who pushed the idea when Walker was turned down for a police internship while attending a Denver-area community college.

“At 19 or 20 years old, it’s like your whole world comes crashing down,” Walker said. “I thought I was never going to become a police officer. If this place isn’t going to take me, then nobody will. I was ready to give up.”

His criminal justice instructor, a retired Florida Highway Patrol trooper, encouraged him, saying, “I know you have what it takes, so what you need to do is hang in there.”

“I never forgot that my whole career,” Walker said. “I think that’s a large part the reason why I do this—I want to pay that back.”

He thinks his mother also played a role. She was an elementary school teacher but died when he was a young boy. She may be why he’s so drawn to teaching. Even as a police officer, he taught courses as an adjunct instructor off and on for two decades, including at UCCS.

In 1987, Walker received an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Pikes Peak Community College. He earned a bachelor of science degree in sociology in 2001 from the University of Southern Colorado, now Colorado State University, Pueblo. In 2004, he received a master of criminal justice degree from CU Denver, though courses were taught at UCCS.

Once he retired, he knew he wanted to teach full time. He considers it a connection to policing because both are about helping people.

“To me, it’s therapeutic to teach and try to help young people get to where they want to go,” he said. “I know what’s awaiting them, and to be able to get them on their way is pretty amazing.”

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Read earlier faculty profiles in this series here:

Faculty profile: For Janel Owens, science is better when told through stories

Faculty profile: Being a librarian is about more than books for Tabby Farney

 

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