Wichita, Kansas - September 11th meant something to every American. For many adults it served as a wake-up call to make the most of life and accomplish unrealized dreams. For Lionel Santiago, who had previously served in the armed forces and was a member of the Orlando Police Department, it served as the catalyst for earning his master’s degree, which ultimately led to his teaching career.
“I vividly remember that day and instantly knew our world as we knew it was about to change,” he said. “I knew that our discipline was about to embark on a technological revolution driven by the realities of the 21st Century security environment. I wanted to not only be physically and mentally ready but also academically ready for the challenges ahead.”
Santiago’s career of service, however, began years before 9/11. A native of Puerto Rico, he moved to Florida at the age of 10. Upon graduating from high school he joined the United States Army where he served eight years as active duty and for the Florida National Guard. He also attended the University of Central Florida where he earned his B.A. with a double major in Political Science and Interpersonal Communication. His first job after earning his degree was as the director of operations for the Central Florida Sports Commission (CFSC), a non-profit government-funded sports marketing organization. But by 1999 he still felt unfulfilled.
“After my time in the Army and spending three years at the CFSC, I felt something was missing,” he said. “I wanted to continue to serve and make a difference.”
His brother, a deputy sheriff, set up a meeting between Santiago and his law enforcement academy coordinator, who also happened to be an Orlando Police Officer. Santiago made the decision to join the force – one he doesn’t regret.
“Our officers and civilians are top-notch professionals who care about their community,” he said. “They are selfless people who put their lives on the line every day. It is an honor to be among them.”
Since joining the department as a patrol officer, Santiago has since worn many hats. He’s worked in the bike unit, served as a property crimes detective, internal affairs investigator and currently serves as a police recruiter – a challenging job given current issues around the county involving police officers.
“Recent events have brought a sharp focus on the relationship between the community and law enforcement and rightfully so,” he said. “I think the solution starts with a frank discussion of the totality of the issues at hand and working together to build a better community.”
And while Santiago works his full-time job in law enforcement, he’s putting his master’s degree from American Military University to good use, teaching classes for the Criminal Justice, Security Administration and Security Management programs at Professional Studies. He says along with interacting with his learners he enjoys the many investments Southwestern College has made to better prepare Criminal Justice and Security Management learners.
“I am so proud of the investments the college had made like the Online Writing Center (OWC) and free access to the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL), which is the nation’s premier collection of documents related to homeland security policy, strategy and organizational management.
Now, 14 years after the dark days of 9/11, Santiago continues to serve not only the citizens of Orlando but the dynamic learners at Southwestern College. He currently teaches courses including CJUS300, SMGT424, MSA505 and MSA575. And while free time is considered a “precious commodity” to Santiago, he relishes the Florida weather with his wife and three children relaxing by the pool and camping.