Millikin University professor Keyria Rodgers didn’t set out for a career in teaching and criminal justice when she began attending University of Illinois-Springfield (UIS) on a basketball scholarship in 2005. At the time she wanted to design video games and was working toward a major in graphic design, but remained unsure about pursuing visual arts.
Sixteen years later, Rodgers’ career in criminal justice, government and higher-education is accomplished and far-reaching. Professor Rodgers is now director of Millikin University’s Criminal Justice Department and director of the Macon County Teen Justice Program. Additionally, in December 2020, Professor Rodgers was appointed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission where she will serve a three-year term.
Professor Rodgers’ path toward criminal justice began when she asked a gentleman about his role at UIS while picking up her niece from daycare and he replied that he was involved in criminal justice.
“I inquired about switching my major and did just that,” said Rodgers. “I took my very first criminal justice class on juvenile delinquency and I was hooked.”
What began as a major that piqued her interest grew quickly into a passion when Rodgers was offered the opportunity to attend court with a professor, Sheryl Essenburg, who previously was a prosecutor for the State of Illinois.
Rodgers says only four students took Sandberg’s offer, but that all four who attended continue to work in the courtroom capacity today.
The first case Rodgers attended in court as a sophomore at UIS was a juvenile abuse and neglect case, and she says that witnessing the legal process firsthand changed her view of criminal justice as a whole.
“It was so different from television. The way the evidence was presented, and how the state prepared their arguments for this particular case; just seeing all of that action is what really hooked me.”
Rodgers says that the courtroom experience also helped her find her purpose within her new major. She was emotionally moved by the case and the details of the crime.
“I promised myself that I would end up becoming one of the people who would speak for those who could not speak for themselves,” said Rodgers.
In 2012, Professor Rodgers was offered the chance to teach at Millikin by Dr. Larry Troy and Dr. Kenneth Laundra. She began teaching a juvenile delinquency class part-time while also working as a truant officer for Macon and Piatt counties.
Dr. Troy passed away unexpectedly in September 2012 at 64, and Rodgers remembers the profound impact he had on her as an educator and his vision for the criminal justice program at Millikin.
“He told us what his dreams were for developing a criminal justice program here at Millikin,” Rodgers recalled. “Dr. Laundra and I said that we would do what it took to see it through.”
Keeping with Dr. Troy’s legacy, Millikin introduced a criminal justice minor in 2012, and in 2015 the University began offering a criminal justice certificate. In 2017, with the assistance of the Andreas Foundation, Millikin began offering the criminal justice major, which has since grown from a small program of less than ten students to nearly 100 students enrolled in 2021.
Outside of her work in government and academia, Professor Rodgers also dedicates her time to veterans, creating a system to monitor progress and survey homeless veterans, focusing on veteran needs and assistance.
“The veteran population is still very near and dear to my heart,” said Rodgers. “I’m always going to try to be a blessing and play a part in that particular area.” Her volunteer work with veterans has included both veteran stand downs and professional development training to understand the reality of what military families experience while preparing for deployment.
Professor Rodgers will soon be known as Dr. Rodgers on campus. She has been working toward completing her Doctorate of Public Administration at UIS and plans to graduate in December 2021. Rodgers also received her B.A. in criminal justice (2008) and her M.A. in legal studies (2010) from UIS.