Campus Life

Criminal Justice students from Scotland visit UWF

Eighteen Scottish criminal justice students and their professor learned a lot about American justice and culture after arriving in Pensacola June 17 for a two-week visit to the University of West Florida (UWF) and the Gulf Coast.

Hailing from the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) in Hamilton, Scotland, the group followed a busy schedule that included visiting the FBI building in Mobile, the Federal Prison Camp on Saufley Field in Pensacola, the Santa Rosa Correctional Facility in Milton, Escambia County Juvenile Court, Federal Reentry Court, the Naval Aviation Museum at NAS and Favor House in Pensacola.

The students’ visit is part of an exchange that UWF and Washburn University in Kansas participate in with UWS. During the exchange, which has been occurring annually for years, the visiting students are integrated into the host university’s classwork and research in hopes of learning about their country’s criminal justice system, culture and politics.

“The students gain valuable knowledge on a variety of levels,” said John Smykla, professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at UWF. “Law and punishment are rooted in a country’s history and culture, and the visiting students have a great opportunity to immerse themselves in that for two weeks.”

Understanding the uniqueness of each other’s systems is another valuable lesson the students take away, according to Smykla.

“The overall experience has been amazing,” said Gail Barrie, a senior from Scotland. “I’m thankful I was given the chance to come here and experience the culture and the criminal justice system.”

In addition to experiencing class work during their stay, the Scottish students had the opportunity to go on ride-alongs with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, giving them a first-hand experience in criminal justice on the streets.

The students, who stayed in Argo Hall on campus during their stay, also experienced some of the more cultural offerings in the Pensacola area, including Bands on the Beach, a Blue Wahoos baseball game and downtown life.

“This has been one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever done,” said Siobhan Donaghue, a junior from Scotland. “I’m thinking of moving here once I graduate and I would love to join the police force.”

“This educational exchange is vital for my students,” said Geraldine O’Donnell, program leader for Criminal Justice at UWS. “It’s an excellent opportunity for them to be able to undertake a comparative study like this. Plus, my students get to experience campus life here and all that entails, so it’s also a cultural exchange.”

UWF plans to send students to Scotland in the coming fall semester. Before leaving, the students are expected to study up on Scottish culture and present a paper on what they most hope to learn.

“I think what the students really take away from the experience is the lifestyle differences,” said Smykla. “Our justice systems may be different, but as people, we are more alike than otherwise.”