Leah Gormaz is inspired to help others through studying criminal justice.
Leah Gormaz developed an interest in criminology while watching crime documentaries on TV.
Although no family members worked in a criminal justice field, she thought about becoming a police officer. But Leah was unsure of what direction to take after graduating from high school.
“I had lacked motivation and wasn’t much of a school person,” she said. “I ended up taking a 3½-year break and worked to save money for the future.”
It was Leah’s mother, a surgical technician, who pushed her to continue her education.
“After those gap years, I was informed of the wide variety of classes College of DuPage offered,” she said. “I knew that choosing it would be a helpful and affordable way to start my education.”
Back to school
Leah enrolled during the pandemic and spent most of her time at Illinois’ College of DuPage (COD) taking online courses. She considers handling her classwork and maintaining high grades in an online environment as her most outstanding experience.
“I am a very independent student, providing for myself entirely,” she said. “While taking full-time classes, I also balanced my time with two other jobs. There were days when I worked 12-hour shifts and came home to spend another three to five hours finishing homework, but I strove to continue and do my best.
“I managed to finish each term with honors, maintaining almost entirely straight A’s. Although teaching and learning can be difficult online, I showed my academic strengths to my professors and worked to my full potential to gain knowledge and experience.”
Help from community
As for her career path, Leah developed an interest in human trafficking after taking several criminal justice courses at COD and talking to police officers in her community.
“I always knew I wanted to help people, but I also wanted to take a step further than that,” she said. “Working in the human trafficking unit takes time, commitment, and courage, and I want to have that in order to help children, young adults, and families reunite and be safe.”
In addition to her coursework, she is completing the 10-week Citizens Police Academy through the Police Department in Carol Stream, Illinois, to gain more insight into the police system. Leah also participated in voluntary ride-alongs with members of the Carol Stream Police Department, and this fall she will enroll in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.
Leah is looking forward to another upcoming opportunity at the University of Tennessee, where she is taking a Taphonomy and Death Investigations course through the Field and Experiential Learning program at COD.
Her hard work has resulted in numerous honors. Leah was accepted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and joined the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. In earning her associate of arts degree, she graduated with high honors and was named an outstanding graduate finalist. Her next goal is to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminology at the University of Illinois Chicago, where she is transferring in the fall.
Figuring it out
Leah is happy she turned to COD, even though she spent most of her time learning in a remote environment.
“The pandemic was scary and discouraging for too many individuals, but I was able to help motivate my friends and some family members to continue or to enroll in classes,” she said. “My advice for future students is to expand your preferences for classes. I always thought I would only take ones related to my interests, but I also enrolled in religion, humanities, art, and communication courses. They helped me grow as an individual and relate even more to the outside world.”
In addition, Leah sees herself as a role model for other Hispanic women seeking higher education.
“Our society unfortunately doubts young Latinas when they shouldn’t, which discourages the Latino community,” she said. “I want to do the opposite and show Latinas that we don’t have to be like everyone else. We can build a life that we truly want if we try hard enough. Being a female and a Latina [working] in the criminal justice system is not seen very often, making people underestimate us. I want to show communities that diversity is expanding and needs to be accepted.
“As a Hispanic first-generation student, I held myself to high standards and made sure I did everything I possibly could in order to get there. I have pushed myself tremendously to keep up with my classes and maintain good grades. After I obtain my bachelor’s degree, I aspire to help people and the community while achieving my own personal goals. I am grateful for all the help I received from faculty at College of DuPage, because at COD, I figured it out.”
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