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Former Plainsboro Police Chief Elizabeth Bondurant
Takes on New Assignment in Classroom at Mercer


West Windsor, N.J. -- Former Plainsboro Police Chief Elizabeth Bondurant finds her new role as a professor of Criminal Justice at Mercer County Community College to encompass "all of the positive and none of the negative" aspects of her former career in policing. She notes that her best moments as a police administrator were spent mentoring others.

Bondurant, who served 25 years on the Plainsboro Police Force until her retirement in 2009, was an adjunct instructor at Mercer for 13 years before joining the faculty full time. She has found that life in the classroom suits her. Mentoring students is a particular joy - and such a valuable part of their education that she asks them to map out the next five years of their lives.

"I require students to have a five-year plan," Bondurant says. "I want to shed light on whether their goals are realistic and achievable and where they need to go from here."

In class with Criminal Justice faculty member Elizabeth Bondurant, center, are students, left to right, Eric Mensah, Stephen Arnold, Chris Forero, Tara Clayton, Oscar Garcia, Rudy Orellana Orantes, Mike Wegschaidler, Rasheda Riddick; (kneeling) Brittney Fornarotto, left, and Andrew Brown.

Bondurant and Program Coordinator Cavit Cooley have plenty of chances to mentor students at Mercer. The Criminal Justice program ranks as MCCC's fourth largest - and growing. Enrollment has doubled since 2003, with close to 500 students majoring in either Law Enforcement (407) or Corrections (73) as of spring 2011.

Bondurant regularly enlivens classroom discussions with comic touches and real world experiences from her time on the force in Plainsboro. She notes that she shares her professional background with students from day one. "I do that for two reasons. As a woman teaching criminal justice, it establishes my credibility and expertise. As a retired police chief who started out as a patrol officer, it lets students know it is possible to rise through the ranks. That's especially encouraging for women in a male-dominated field."

In preparing her students for the demanding role of police officer, Bondurant strives to get them to think - not to rely solely on what they have read in textbooks, but to use common sense approaches that will work. "In some situations, you just have to know how to calm things down and not allow them to escalate," she says. "The greatest asset for a police officer is being a strong communicator. Good relations with the community are essential to good policing."

Bondurant also encourages students to build resumes that include community service and employment in related fields. "It's very helpful in the hiring process," she observes.

Bondurant's approach is clearly working for students. Sophomore Christopher Forero graduates from Mercer in December with his five-year plan firmly in place and a resume that includes work as a security officer. He is continuing his education at SUNY Potsdam this spring, where he will join ROTC and then spend time in the military. Ultimately, he plans to work at the federal level, either with the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Forero says Bondurant is one of those professors who keeps the material interesting. "She interacts with students and uses current events. She draws on stories from her time on the force. Her personal advice on my future plans has been very helpful."

Not surprisingly, Bondurant herself has prepared well throughout her career. After earning her undergraduate degree in Physical Education from East Stroudsburg University, she completed her master's degree in Police Administration from Jersey City University in 1990 and attended the FBI Academy in 2000, an 11-week program that focused on executive management training. The classes she teaches at Mercer - Intro to Criminal Justice, Criminology and Police Administration - reflect her broad background. She even teaches courses online.

While some towns require only Police Academy training for hiring, the field has become increasingly competitive, according to Bondurant. "Municipalities vary greatly. Some departments require an associate degree; some want a bachelor's degree. You definitely need a degree to be considered for promotions. We talk about all of that."

Bondurant points out the value of the program's diverse roster of adjunct instructors. Some come from the corrections field, while others are current or retired officers, as well as prosecution and defense lawyers.

"It's a very dynamic field. The landscape is always changing. We do a lot to keep the curriculum current," Bondurant says. Pointing to car searches as an example, she notes, "Court cases change the way things can be done. Our students need to know any changes in procedures."

Bondurant serves as co-advisor of the Criminal Justice Club with Professor Cooley. Currently the club has 80 members. Activities include ride-alongs with area police departments and a variety of outings. This fall the group has toured Eastern State Prison in Rahway, the Franklin Institute's CSI display in Philadelphia and a firearms range. A trip to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City is planned for spring 2012.

Learn more about the Criminal Justice program here.

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