First recipient of Buie Scholarship
Allison Kennedy and her family at the Gaston College BLET graduation ceremony in December 2019. From left: mom Lisa; Allison; sister, Amanda; and dad, Thomas Kennedy. (photos provided)
by STEPHANIE MICHAEL-PICKETT
DALLAS, N.C. – Gaston County Police Officer Allison Kennedy graduated from the Gaston College Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) academy in December 2019. She enrolled in the certification course after earning her four-year degree in Criminal Justice from Belmont Abbey College in May 2019. Kennedy was the first recipient of the James W. Buie Scholarship, which funded her education at Belmont Abbey.
The James W. Buie Scholarship, a joint effort of Belmont Abbey College, the Gaston County Police Department, and Gaston County Schools, was established in December 2016 with the goal of increased diversity in the department with minority and female applicants receiving priority. The scholarship honors James W. Buie, a graduate of Belmont Abbey College, who joined the Gaston County Police Department in 1987. During his 30-year law enforcement career, Buie served in every unit and function within the department. His leadership abilities and strong work ethic allowed him to rise through the ranks to become Chief of Police in 2011. Chief Buie, now retired, was the first African American Police Chief in Gaston County history.
“We are excited to partner with Belmont Abbey College and Gaston County Schools in this program, with the emphasis on creating a more diverse police department that represents the citizens of Gaston County while honoring former Chief James Buie,” said Joseph D. Ramey, who succeeded Buie as Gaston County Police Chief.
The James W. Buie Scholarship covers full tuition at Belmont Abbey College. “The first two years of the program, the scholarship committee, made up of representatives from Gaston County and the Abbey, identified a rising Abbey junior Criminal Justice major and a high school senior from a Gaston County high school,” said Dr. Julia Foster Beeman, Chair and Associate Professor, Belmont Abbey Department of Criminal Justice. “Subsequent years will name only one high school senior. Allison Kennedy was a rising junior at the time of the award, and was selected from a competitive field of applicants for her strong academic record, her desire to support the Gaston County community as a public servant, and her enthusiasm for the opportunity to make a difference. She went on to complete her degree, graduated from the Abbey in May 2019, then began the BLET program at Gaston College last summer, culminating in her graduation in December.” As a recipient of the Buie Scholarship, Kennedy has a 5-year commitment to the Gaston County Police Department.
“Gaston College is the state-accredited Basic Law Enforcement Training academy for our service region,” said Dennis Crosby, Director of the Criminal Justice Academy and BLET program at Gaston College. “This program is accredited through the North Carolina Criminal Justice Standards Division so once you graduate from our academy and pass the state certification exam, you can be a law enforcement officer anywhere in the state.”
Although admission to the Gaston College BLET program accepts students with a high school diploma or equivalent, the Gaston County Police Department is the only police department in the Carolinas to require a four-year degree. Upon receiving that degree, graduates can enroll in the Gaston College BLET program to prepare for certification. The department does hire entry-level officers prior to BLET, so these new recruits can enjoy the benefits of full-time employment while completing training. “Those who pass a mandatory background check after completing the BLET program are guaranteed a position with the Gaston County Police Department and have a commitment to fulfill the Buie Scholarship obligations,” said Chief Ramey. “Allison Kennedy is now employed as an officer with the Gaston County Police Department and is currently participating in the department’s 16-week field training course.”
“I became interested in law enforcement when I was in high school and started to think about my career,” said Kennedy. “I decided that I wouldn’t want to work behind a desk for a large portion of my day, but I also wanted to have the opportunity to interact with people in the community in a positive way. I found that law enforcement was a balance between enforcing the law and also being an advocate and providing aid to those in need.”
Kennedy continued, “At 19 years old, it was a challenge to think that in the short years to come, I would begin my training to become a Gaston County Police Officer. The department I was about to join showed the utmost confidence in my abilities, even before I was fully confident, and that allowed me to develop a sureness that law enforcement was where I was supposed to be following my education at Belmont Abbey. The Gaston County Police and the Belmont Abbey Criminal Justice Department provided a foundation of education to grow through prior to attending the BLET program at Gaston College, and I couldn’t be more thankful that I was a recipient of the Buie Scholarship.
“Being a recipient of this scholarship provided me with the ability to attend school with financial stability, but also an opportunity for employment following college. To my knowledge, there aren’t many programs that allow the whole package and I’m so grateful to the Gaston County Police Department. This scholarship changed my outlook on the things that were going on in society. As I was finishing college, I started thinking with the mindset of a law enforcement officer and to think of what I would do when my time came to be in the shoes of those I was studying.”
Currently there are three active Buie scholars at Belmont Abbey – two females and a Hispanic male.
“The program has done well meeting the stated objective of increasing diversity in the county police department,” said Dr. Beeman. “The Criminal Justice program at the Abbey works closely with Gaston College Associate in Arts and Associate in Science graduates to support their academic and career goals via the North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement that facilitates transferring their credits so they can complete their 4-year degree. I look forward to further developing that relationship.”
Kennedy looks forward to being a positive influence as a police officer.
“Throughout my career at the Gaston County Police Department, I hope to grow and develop as an officer and hopefully move up in rank as the years’ progress,” said Kennedy. “On a daily basis, my goal is to give those I interact with a positive experience with law enforcement. In a day when there is much skepticism about law enforcement, I hope that I can be one link in the chain that changes that perception.”
“Law enforcement is constantly striving to increase our standards,” said Crosby. “College-educated officers are in high demand. That is why the James Buie Scholarship is so important.” The James W. Buie Scholarship application process for fall 2020 will open when the Gaston County budget process is completed.
For more information about the Gaston College BLET program, visit gaston.edu/public-safety/basic-law-enforcement-training-blet.