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Fellowship Prepares Graduate Student for Criminal Justice Career

Posted: March 30, 2016

After realizing that nobleness can emerge amid corruption, Magdalena Mpinga chose to study criminal justice as an undergraduate and graduate student at Buffalo State.

She spent her early childhood in Tanzania, Africa, where she witnessed mistreatment of citizens at the hands of police, among other malfeasances. Her uncle, who served on the force, “was one of the good ones,” she said. “I saw how important righteous criminal justice can be.”

When she was in the seventh grade, Mpinga, her five siblings, and parents resettled as refugees in the Syracuse area. It was a tough transition at first because she didn’t speak English, but Mpinga excelled at school. Her mother was a teacher in Africa, and education was of paramount importance.

“Nothing below an ‘A’ was acceptable,” Mpinga said with a smile.

Although her parents hoped Mpinga would choose a safe occupation, she felt compelled to pursue a career in law enforcement. In 2014, she graduated with a bachelor’s in criminal justice with a minor in sociology, and she’s poised to earn her master’s degree in criminal justice in December 2016. Her goal is to serve as a police lieutenant or detective someday.

Mpinga knew she would need a master’s degree to rise through the ranks, but she didn’t see how she could pay for graduate school. During the winter break of 2014, she received a phone call that changed everything. She learned she was awarded a coveted SUNY diversity fellowship, which would cover tuition and provide a small stipend.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “I envision my future in leadership roles, and I don’t think that would be possible without the fellowship and the help received from (Graduate School dean) Kevin Railey and his assistant, Margaret Letzelter.”

Mpinga is one of 25 Buffalo State graduate students who have received support through the SUNY fellowship.

Railey would like to see more students from diverse backgrounds earn graduate degrees. He worked with the Institutional Advancement Office to create a diversity scholarship specifically for Buffalo State students that mirrors the SUNY fellowship. Called the Underrepresented Student Scholarship, it’s funded through individual gifts, including the annual Faculty and Staff Appeal.

“We gave a presentation on campus in February about these deserving students, many of whom have overcome great obstacles,” Railey said. “And people really responded, wanting to know how they can contribute.”

The criteria are similar to the SUNY fellowship, he explained. Diversity is not defined entirely by race or ethnicity. Other factors are involved as well as whether students would contribute to the diversity in their chosen field.

“Clearly, African American women are not well-represented in criminal justice. This is why Magdalena, who had a very good academic background and has overcome quite a bit in her personal life, was a strong candidate. But if we’re looking at fields dominated by women, such as education, where a white male could qualify,” he said. “The variables include the challenges students must overcome, plus the field that are contributing to.”

Now that this new fund has been established, the goal is to build upon it, Railey said.

To contribute to the Underrepresented Student Scholarship or any of the scholarships included within the 2016 Faculty and Staff Appeal, contact Mario Hicks at (716) 878-3467. 

See the full list of funds and scholarships.


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