Samantha Jones spent much of her time as an SIUE student on the soccer field and, for one season, on the softball field. Roughly four years after graduating, Jones returned to campus: this time as a patrol officer.
Jones played a critical role in the women’s soccer team for all four years she played as a midfielder, and later joined the softball team as a base runner her senior year.
Jones said she was never fully sure what she wanted to do after graduation, but figured she’d be helping athletes with her degree in exercise science.
“I had no idea exactly what I wanted to do,” Jones said. “I knew that getting a college education was priority; I just didn’t know quite where to go after that.”
While Jones’ new career path may have been a shock to her, her SIUE soccer head coach Derek Burton said the position aligns perfectly with her character traits.
“[As] the one who recruited Sam to SIUE, it’s totally not a surprise to me,” Burton said. “It definitely suits her character; the way that she goes about her life and the way she carries herself, it’s not a surprise. I’m just an extremely proud former coach.”
Burton said he believed Jones’ leadership made her an obvious fit for the job, as she had been a team captain for multiple years. He also said her willingness to work hard makes for a good officer. Jones was named an All-American her senior year, meaning she was academically in the top 33 Division I soccer players in the entire country.
“She’s extremely hardworking, and you have to do the everyday grind of being an officer,” Burton said. “You have to respect the process that it takes, and I think there’s certainly some similarities of being an athlete and being an officer in that there are certain things that are just non-negotiable, that have to be done if you want to be successful. She was that way as an athlete, as a student as well, and I think she’ll be that way as a police officer as she continues forward.”
Jones said she anticipated taking a gap year to figure out a plan, but that changed once her assistant soccer coach, Holly Cox, called her and said she was accepting a head coach position at the University of Indianapolis and she needed a graduate assistant. While in Indianapolis, Jones studied sports marketing, which lead to her do marketing for a casino.
After being promoted to an advertising specialist position at the casino, Jones recognized it wasn’t the most fulfilling choice for her. She said she always knew she wanted to help people and didn’t feel she was doing that at the casino. Then, a friend recommended she try her hand at law enforcement.
“Being 26 at the time, I was like ‘it’s either take the leap of faith and see if a law enforcement career will personally be beneficial and fulfilling, or stay with where I’m at and not have that feeling,’ so I decided to apply to SIUE,” Jones said. “I’ve been a part of this university and I personally really, really love the university. I think it’s impacted me in a lot of ways, so I took my friend’s advice and I ran with it.”
According to SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll and Burton, there are many qualities in athletes that make for good police officers. Jones is not the only former athlete to be a part of SIUE Police. Schmoll, who played basketball and football in high school, said the skills learned by playing on a sports team are translatable to working on a police force.
“Anytime you’re involved in team sports, you learn how to work together as a team and also as an individual,” Schmoll said. “That will help her in her law enforcement career because we work together as a department, as a team. They’re in a squad together, right now a night squad, so there’s a sargent and three or four other officers on the squad with her. They work together to get through the night shift … so teamwork is a big, big part of what we do.”
During his six years as police chief, Schmoll said he has hired many graduates of the university, as he believes this helps to build a positive relationship between police and the campus community. Jones said she believes having gone to school at SIUE helps her to connect with the students she serves.
“I think I can relate to a lot of these students; I’ve been here, I’ve gone through these classes. I know what the university has to offer, [and] it’s played a huge work in my life [though] networking here, meeting professors here, having coaches here and advisers,” Jones said. “It’s helped shape who I am, and I think if I’m able to somehow become part of that SIUE culture to where these students can come to me and I can help shape them and help positively impact them, that’s huge.”
While Jones sees many obvious differences between sports and her new work environment, she said one thing makes them similar: both have a sense of camaraderie.
“The one thing I love about this career and why I think I’ll really enjoy it, is it is similar [to sports] in a way,” Jones said. “There’s camaraderie here: you have people that care about you and your decision making who want to see you do well, who want to see you continue learning, continue training and continue trying to help people the best way possible. I think these officers are great, our administration is great, and I’m excited to be part of another team.”