Today@Sam Article

Professor Honored For Excellence In Community Engagement

July 16, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Crandall

Mary Breaux in front of Criminal Justice Center

Recognized for her efforts in providing Sam Houston State University students opportunities to get into the community and gain experience in the field of victimology, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Crime Victims Institute Mary Breaux has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 David Payne Award for Academic Community Engagement.

Breaux began her education at Sam Houston State where she received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 1994. Upon graduation from SHSU, Breaux continued her education at Webster University. It was here that she earned a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Management while beginning her career with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) as a Child Protective Services investigator.

In 1999, Breaux began working as an institute instructor and regional human resources specialist with DFPS’ child protective services program. From 2004 to 2014, Breaux worked on the adult protective services side as a regional community engagement specialist. In this position, she educated the community on protective services and found a passion for teaching others. Because of this, she went on to earn a doctoral degree of philosophy in educational leadership from Prairie View A&M University in 2013.

“I ended up actually educating the community about both programs, adult and child protective services,” Breaux said. “I found myself speaking to college students quite frequently, and I became interested in teaching because I presented information about protective services and victims to colleges and universities anyway.”

During her time in this position, Breaux attended a career fair at Sam Houston State to promote an internship program with the Adult Services Program. At this victim service career fair, Breaux was asked if she would be interested in teaching college-level courses in the new Victim Service Management program. Breaux began teaching part-time at Sam Houston in 2010, and she was promoted to clinical assistant professor in 2014.

“I think it was just the right moment. With my practical experience and education and the Victim Service Management Program course offerings, it was the perfect fit for me,” she said.

Mary Breaux HeadshotBreaux’s practical, real-world practice in victim services gives her insight into the field that can enhance her students’ college experiences. From her involvement, she sees the great value students can gain from community engagement.

“My prior practical field experience enhances my classroom teaching by providing students with a well-informed view of field work. Although I am not working in the field anymore, I still bridge the gap by engaging with community victim service organizations and agencies. This keeps me grounded in recent agency and organizational changes. With this, I can continually keep my students updated with the latest information from organizations,” Breaux said. “I think within any victimology course, students need to gain experience in the field, because it helps them grow. Gaining field experience through volunteering, civic or community engagement, or internships will assist students in their future victim services career and civic responsibilities.”

SHSU students that participate in Breaux’s courses and are involved in community engagement throughout their academic career are better prepared for the workforce they will enter upon graduation.

“Working in a victim services field, you will face many challenges in assisting victims and families, and it’s better for students to be exposed to those challenges through their learning rather than be placed in field and totally be caught off-guard,” Breaux said. “We want our students to go out and make a positive difference in the community and be well-prepared for their career in victim services. We want them to contribute to the greater good of society.”

In addition to community engagement being beneficial to students, the community partners that each student works with receive great benefit from the program. Breaux’s students have partnered with more than 200 victim services organizations locally, statewide and nationally during the past four years.

“Our students can help organizations by contributing their service and time to them,” Breaux said. “Their service has really been rewarding to crime victims, community organizations and the community.”

Whether it be creating resource brochures for law enforcement officers, working one-on-one at a women’s shelter or educating a victim services agency virtually during the pandemic, SHSU students are making an impact and finding their purpose through community engagement with Breaux’s guidance. Breaux makes time to interact with her students and discuss their projects and their passions.

“At the beginning of the semester, I attempt to meet with students individually to discuss their community engagement projects. I allow them to create their projects and select the organizations they would like to partner with during the course,” she said. “Once they are engaged in their project and link with organizations, many of them develop a sincere passion working alongside victim services organizations and really find purpose and passion in what they are doing.”

As more victimization areas come to the surface, Breaux is a key piece in the next step in criminal justice education. Victim studies is a newer concept, and including it in the College of Criminal Justice shows SHSU’s dedication to being a great name in Texas education.

“I think more education and awareness needs to lend itself to victims and the different types of victimization,” Breaux said. “Our college recognized this need and developed the only one of its kind in the nation, a Department of Victim Studies. Victims should be at the forefront, so I think it is the perfect fit for Sam Houston and our college.”

Breaux is thrilled to receive this award from the university, and is proud to be recognized for her work.

“It’s a great honor,” Breaux said. “There are so many excellent faculty members at the university that focus on community engagement in their courses, so for me to be selected is an honor and I am truly grateful.”

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