criminal justice student Marissa Palacios

Probation officer Marissa Palacios returns to college for a master’s in criminal justice

December 6, 2019

As a first-generation college student born in Chihuahua, Mexico, Marissa Palacios didn’t imagine that she would earn one degree—much less two. Now she is about to participate in commencement on Dec. 14, 2019, where she will happily receive her master’s degree in criminal justice.

For 10 years Marissa has worked as a probation officer with Denver Adult Probation. To some, this seems like a really difficult job, but she had been intrigued by criminal justice since middle school. With “so much to explore within this field,” she chose to attend graduate school in the School of Public Affairs. She said she chose CU Denver because it’s a great school with a great reputation, and its downtown location was convenient. “And how cool will it be for my graduate degree to say ‘University of Colorado Denver’ above my name?” she adds.

Marissa knew she would earn her undergraduate college degree: “To graduate from college was a dream but also not a question for me.” Graduate school proved more difficult. As the mother of three children and a full-time probation officer, she had more responsibilities and less time. “Graduating with my master’s degree has been a bigger challenge and that much more of an accomplishment in my life,” she said.

Marissa Palacios, criminal justice graduate
Marissa Palacios will earn her master’s degree in Criminal Justice in Dec. 2019.

But Marissa did it, and if her capstone project is any indication, she did it well. Sheila Huss, PhD, one of her professors, told us about Marissa’s work with the CO Metropolitan Auto Theft Taskforce (CMATT), which has one of the highest closure rates for auto thefts in the country. “The individuals from CMATT have already implemented several of her recommendations from her research, and they are planning to use some of her other suggestions,” Huss said.

Marissa’s capstone project examined auto theft in Colorado.

Marissa chose to study criminal justice because she wanted “to hopefully make a difference.” It is a far cry from the world she knew as a child: She was raised on a dairy farm in Oklahoma. With her diploma in hand, she will hopefully teach her own children about perseverance. “I struggled to come back to school to get my master’s, but I’m glad I did it and it was worth it,” she said.