Jill Frometa ’19 Reclaims Her Criminal Justice Dreams With a Master’s Degree from John Jay

Jill Frometa ’19 Reclaims Her Criminal Justice Dreams With a Master’s Degree from John Jay

Jill Frometa ’19 Reclaims Her Criminal Justice Dreams With a Master’s Degree from John Jay

When Jill Frometa ’19 first came to John Jay in 2003 she was eager to work in the criminal justice field, but when she was dismissed from the College in 2005 her dreams of getting her degree seemed out of reach. “In fall 2003 I was in the five-year Forensic Science B.S./M.S. program,” she said. “I had a heavy course load, a full-time job, and had to take care of my one-year-old sister. Things were not so great at home and I just couldn’t get it together enough to do my work, or even attend class. My grades were awful and I got into a little bit of trouble. After being on academic probation for a couple of semesters I finally exited the College with a 0.6 GPA.”

After leaving John Jay, Frometa did everything she could to create a better life for herself. She worked in the food industry as a successful pastry chef, became a personal trainer, and in 2009 had her daughter Bella. But she was still determined to get her degree. Frometa attended Lehman College, improved her grades, and in 2017 returned to John Jay, graduating with a master’s degree in Criminal Justice, Police Administration this past May. “I knew I had to complete my degree because I had a little girl watching me. What kind of example would I set for her if I didn’t get my degree? And now in January, I’ll be a mom to a little boy,” said Frometa. “This degree means the absolute world to me. It’s tangible proof of my personal growth and ability to accomplish my goals despite many hardships.” Frometa is now an adjunct professor in John Jay’s Criminal Justice department and a study coordinator at New York University (NYU).

“This degree means the absolute world to me. It’s tangible proof of my personal growth and ability to accomplish my goals despite many hardships.” —Jill Frometa

When you were deciding on a college, what made you want to come to John Jay?
When I first graduated high school, I wanted to be either a forensic scientist or detective. At that time John Jay was the only school that had the curriculum that I wanted, and it was relatively close to home. And, I’ve been a Law and Order fan since I was probably eight years old. I even have pictures of me visiting the set as a kid. I was always fascinated by crime—why it is committed, different types of crime, investigations, criminal justice procedure. I think that growing up seeing my father arrested, along with spending time with my godfather—who is now retired from the NYPD—made me want to see all sides of the criminal justice field.

Frometa with her daughter Bella
Frometa with her daughter Bella

You said that you left the College in 2005. What made you want to come back to John Jay?
In late 2009 or 2010 I tried to be readmitted and was repeatedly denied. I was told I needed to apply for retroactive resignation to bring up my GPA, which would help me get back in. But when I applied for retroactive readmission, I was told that my GPA was too low to be approved, which meant I couldn’t return to the College. But this made me want to come back even more. I love being challenged, and I knew that John Jay was where I belonged. So, I made it my mission to come back to the College and get my degree, despite what I was told.

“I knew that John Jay was where I belonged. So, I made it my mission to come back to the College and get my degree.” —Jill Frometa

In 2011, I enrolled as a full-time student at Lehman College through the Adult Degree Program. I found out about e-Permit and took as many courses at John Jay as I could. From there I developed relationships with faculty members and started working as a research assistant in the Psychology and Law Ph.D. program. I used that experience to complete an undergraduate independent study at John Jay, also via e-Permit, where I received indexable credits—credits where you can receive a letter grade for a course and increase your GPA—at Lehman. To conduct my research I was admitted into the “FBI room,” which is a collaborative project between the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and John Jay College. Here I was, a non-John Jay undergrad student sitting in a room filled with FBI cases, conducting research with many experts in the field. This experience further proved to me that John Jay is where I should be at, and in January 2017 I officially came back to the College and started my master’s degree in Criminal Justice.

Not only did you just complete your master’s degree, but you were also awarded the Sergeant Peter Tam Law Enforcement Scholarship. What did this scholarship mean to you?
I was honored when I won this award. Professor Tam created this scholarship because he believes a law enforcement official’s ability to obtain a higher education will improve policing in New York City. As a law enforcement professional and graduate student, I wholeheartedly believe that higher education enhances critical thinking and job performance. I experienced this firsthand because my graduate coursework had a very positive impact on my job performance and job-related insights.

What do you hope your children learn from your journey?
I constantly tell my daughter to learn from the mistakes that I have made. She spent more than half her life watching me in school, and I’m happy to say that she has developed some of my study and homework habits. On the other hand, she did miss me a lot and I often remind her that it’s best to finish school and establish a career before having kids, since she knows what it is like having her mom doing homework all the time. Another thing I want my children to learn is to never accept the first “no.” That is something someone very dear to me at John Jay once told me, and he was right. Had I accepted my low GPA and not worked hard to get back into John Jay, I wouldn’t have completed my master’s degree and I wouldn’t be well prepared for any career in criminal justice.

Frometa holding her original John Jay ID
Frometa holding her original John Jay ID

What have been some of your experiences working in the criminal justice field?
I have had so many different experiences, sometimes it feels like I have been everywhere. I worked at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, where I had to interview children that had been sexually assaulted; I have photographed rape injuries; watched 100 percent guilty defendants be found “not guilty” and 100 percent innocent defendants convicted on a “confession” they gave under duress. I’ve visited homes with police, recommended policy changes, and interrogated study participants who had just completed a mock crime. Despite all the investigating and analyzing skills I learned through these experiences, I think the most valuable lessons are the ones that taught me interpersonal skills. When you do this work, you encounter all kinds of people and sometimes you meet them on the worst day of their life. I’ve learned that the best thing you can do in these instances is be patient and listen to the individuals because there is always something to learn, and at least two sides to every story.

You just began your first semester as an adjunct professor at the College. What has this experience been like so far?
Teaching here is so surreal. This semester I am teaching COR 101, Introduction to Corrections. I did not expect to love teaching as much as I do, but my students have a lot of interesting things to say and I truly enjoy our class discussions. And, I think my experiences, both professionally and personally can reach the students here at the College. I want them to have fun in class and learn how to discuss ideas respectfully and intelligently. I also want to show students the practical applications of course materials. Knowing how or why particular knowledge will be applied is important. And at the end of the day, I enjoy helping people. If I can provide my students with any guidance or resources to succeed, I will.

Frometa at a Research Expo
Frometa at a Research Expo

You’re also an Opioids and Police Safety Study Coordinator at NYU. Can you tell me more about the work that you are doing there?
My full-time job is at New York University. I am the coordinator of a huge CDC-funded project that is creating occupational risk reduction trainings for police. Our goal is to minimize the workplace harms associated with response to the opioid epidemic and other people who inject drugs. Some of these workplace harms include needlestick injuries, accidental exposure to fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, and occupational burnout. We should be piloting very soon, and I am pretty excited about recruiting so many police officers to participate. This work means a lot to me not only because police safety is extremely important, but because my father has been addicted to heroin since I was about nine or 10 years old. Being in the criminal justice field is my way of helping people, who may not have had the right guidance, get back on their feet and on a path to better their lives.  

“Being in the criminal justice field is my way of helping people, who may not have had the right guidance, get back on their feet and on a path to better their lives.” —Jill Frometa

I’m also doing this other project called Operation CP30. While I can’t tell you much, I can say that I was offered a role on this project by Adam Scott Wandt, Assistant Professor and Deputy Chair for Academic Technology. This is a joint project between John Jay College and the National Cyber Forensic Training Alliance in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, investigating cyber predators targeting the exploitation of children across multiple platforms. And, this spring our team developed forensic cyber tools to assist law enforcement in the identification and prosecution of child offenders. All of the work that I’m doing is with the hope that I can return to the NYPD, and become a Deputy Commissioner someday. I feel like that’s where I belong and where I can best reach people in my community. I was previously employed by the NYPD and I probably would have started as a recruit in October 2019, but I got pregnant in May. When I have the chance, I definitely want to go back.

What advice would you give to others, who may think that college is out of their reach?
Do not give up because nothing is ever out of your reach. It might not be easy to finish college as a mother, or a single mom, but there is always a way. Sometimes we need to take an unconventional path to success, but you can get there. Try not to compare yourself to others, because doing that will just make you feel bad. And, if you find that you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.