Autumn Fenton will be completing her Polk State Associate in Science in Criminal Justice in the fall of this year, and she is doing so while serving the Polk County community and taking care of her family.
“I work seven days a week doing something: being a mom, studying, answering emails for work,” Fenton explained. “I am a hard worker. I got that from my dad.”
The Bartow High School graduate’s career in law enforcement started years ago.
“I was in ROTC and wanted to go into the military or go to college, but I got a job at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher, and it changed the course of my path,” she said.
Since then, Fenton has worked in law enforcement as a corrections officer, drill instructor, and police officer; has been a municipal and county code investigator and manager of code enforcement; and is now Code Enforcement Director for Polk County.
In addition to her years of experience, Polk State College has played a big part in her life and career. She is a 1998 graduate of the Corrections Academy and a 1999 graduate of the Law Enforcement cross-over Academy, inspired by her grandfather who served as a deputy for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
“Polk State is a great place for first-time attendees seeking higher education or anyone trying to finish up their education from where they left off as they move up within their professions or seek out career advancement opportunities.”
“Growing up with him in law enforcement and in the military previous to that, I knew I wanted to do one or the other,” Fenton explained of her career path. “It must have been the structure that I appreciated the most. I knew I wanted something solid that offered job security and benefits.”
After years of moving up in ranks, Fenton realized that she needed more education in addition to her strong work ethic. In the fall of 2019, Fenton came back to Polk State to finish her associate degree.
“I believe in leading by example,” she said. “I enjoy getting out and working within the team. Polk State is a great place for first-time attendees seeking higher education or anyone trying to finish up their education from where they left off as they move up within their professions or seek out career advancement opportunities.”
“Polk State’s Criminal Justice Program helps me meet my goals,” she added. “I take two classes per semester. Polk State teachers have been understanding and flexible.”
Fenton has vast experience in the workings of law enforcement, but she chose her internship in Polk County’s Probation & Parole program in the fall of 2020.
She explains her reasoning for coming back to school and pursuing this internship.
“The world is ever-changing and at such a fast pace,” Fenton said. “I have to keep up or get left behind. Knowing what I know with firsthand experience is one thing in the line of duty in this profession, but to continuously learn and adapt to change, culture, diversity and the surrounding environment is another.”
Polk State enjoys strong partnerships with employers and organizations across Polk County and connects students with internship and experiential learning opportunities. Internships may be anywhere from a few weeks to a semester and are career-specific, related to a student’s program of study and career interests.
“I chose the County Probation Division because it falls under Public Safety at the county, and I felt I needed to know more about probation for possible future promotions,” she explained. “I have sat in virtual court, visited offices, and went to the jail to see staff put on electronic monitors.”
Fenton’s internship makes her even more of an asset to Polk County as it has helped her gain knowledge of another piece of the organization’s workings. With it and the degree she will earn at Polk State, she will be eligible to move even further up the chain as she has only two promotions left above her.
“I was always able to work my way up with job skills and hard work,” she said. “I am always wanting to learn more and have a better understanding of how the organization works.”
“Autumn is an example of how Polk State’s programs are teaching skills that combined with the experience are in demand in local agencies.”
Matina Wagner, Coordinator of Internships and Experiential Learning at Polk State, said Fenton’s story illustrates the benefits of internship experiences and the College’s success in providing opportunities that prepare students for careers, or in Fenton’s case, the next level in her profession.
“Autumn is an example of how Polk State’s programs are teaching skills that combined with the experience are in demand in local agencies,” Wagner said.
Fenton said going back to school has been extremely beneficial for her.
“I am benefiting from going back to school while being a working professional in the sense that it affords me an opportunity to refresh myself on skills not frequently used or even lost where I need extra practice,” she said. “Each course has some aspect directly related to being a Division Director that I can tie back to my job function.”
And her education and professional development won’t stop here.
Once she achieves her associate degree, Fenton plans to continue to serve the people of Polk County while pursuing a Polk State’s Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice or Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management with a concentration in Public Administration.
“For me, I have to be flexible and able to receive constructive criticism in any place in life so that I can grow and help those I lead grow where they are,” she said.