Spotlight on Excellence at Texas State: Joe McKenna

Criminal justice doctoral student honored at the White House

Photo of McKenna as he receives his award

Joe McKenna (center) contributes to the safety of students everywhere through his work at TxSSC.

By Mindy Green

It is unfortunate that safety in educational settings requires an extraordinary amount of research and preparation. Luckily for Texas State, one of the country’s most prominent research facilities on the subject is right on campus.

The Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) provides assistance and training to schools across Texas, covering such diverse topics as school violence and tobacco prevention. But the center is gaining a reputation far beyond Texas borders. Joe McKenna, a coordinator of a TxSSC program, was honored at the White House on September 24 as a “Champion of Change for Community Preparedness and Resilience.”

A recent graduate of the master’s in criminal justice program and currently a doctoral student, McKenna coordinates a Youth Preparedness Camp, a 20-hour training session designed for students from grades 8 to 12. Attendees receive certification training for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), develop a community action plan and acquire leadership skills that prepare them to respond to emergency situations.

He’s a part of the emergency management research division. “I’ll do research and I’ll write a lot of the reports for the center,” McKenna says. “The emergency management part is where I focus on the youth.”

Since McKenna took over the program in 2012, it is increasing in interest and popularity. This past year, 450 students applied for 50 available spots. His skills as a research specialist help him find that working in teams is more effective when executing an action plan. “The team environment has really helped our impact at the community level because now there are more people carrying it along,” McKenna says. He was hired while he was in graduate school here and graduated with his master’s degree last spring.  “A lot of those research skills come in handy for camp,” McKenna says. “We focus on what the youth want and a lot of that is through evaluation.” The support of the program comes from Texas State, FEMA and state agencies.

“We’re so proud of Joe,” says TxSSC Director Dr. Victoria Calder. “He takes a lot of initiative and goes the extra mile. We’re happy to support him.”

On Oct. 30, TxSSC is cosponsoring the Texas Bully Prevention Summit in San Marcos with the College of Education and the Center for Children and Families. The purpose of the event corresponds with the center’s mission of implementing positive environments and a safer learning community.

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