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Criminal justice major graduates with master's degree at 22

Criminal justice major graduates with master's degree at 22

"Nothing's impossible for God" is a favorite phrase for Samantha Loose, as the 22-year-old celebrates her master's degree in criminal justice from St. Ambrose University, Davenport.

Loose, with a background that includes bullying at Bettendorf High School and missing 367 school days in a two-year period, has been on a mission ever since that bleak period of her life.

This faithful Catholic resides in Bettendorf with her protection dog, a German shepherd, and a cat.  Loose graduated high school nearly a year ahead of her peers, got an associate degree from Scott Community College in one year and took two more years to earn a bachelor's and master's degree in criminal justice. Her hooding ceremony was May 13, and the university's commencement was held the next day.

She joined Bettendorf's Police Explorers unit when she turned 18 years old, and that's where she developed her interest in criminal justice. She now has studied that topic, sociology and statistics and has hopes of eventually becoming a hostage negotiator. Or perhaps a statistics educator. Loose tutors math students in her scant spare time, and her next academic quest is to get a doctorate in sociology from the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

Loose is "busy and motivated," said Chris Barnum, professor in sociology and criminal justice, who directs the master's degree program at St. Ambrose.

Barnum was a police officer in Cedar Rapids for 25 years and helped Loose learn how to do research, statistics and methodology. She takes part in studies, such as for traffic safety in Iowa City and Davenport, and in measuring how people of different races or ethnicities fare during traffic stops in both cities.

Even as an undergrad, Loose finished up quickly, Barnum said. She was president of the college's National Honor Society for criminal justice, a teaching assistant and participated in two fellowships.

During all the St. Ambrose activities, she also worked full-time in Bettendorf, tutoring students and at a fitness center. She trains her protection dog named Custos ("The Guardian" in Latin). The dog training is done in Latin, in honor of her Catholic faith.

Loose stays busy to cope with trauma. She tries to keep her past in perspective and sees it in a positive way.

"Everyone has trials," she said. "You should not let your experiences hold you back."

Loose also is religious, she said, and credits God with her success.

"Without God, I can guarantee I would not have accomplished this," she said.

Loose was always ambitious, decisive and assertive, she said, but as a teen, she chose to avoid the school bullies and tallied up the extensive absences.

A principal backed up her decision to drop out of school at the age of 16 and earn his diploma in alternative fashion. She went before the Bettendorf School Board members, and they agreed.

Still, it was traumatic. She walked with the Class of 2012 in the traditional May ceremony but went almost one more year before starting at Scott Community College, Bettendorf.

She was able to take all but one class online and enjoyed the entire community college experience, she said. She enrolled at St. Ambrose for its criminal justice program and because it is a Catholic institution.

Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington has confidence in her path to success.

"If you have determination and the will to get things done and focus on it, you can do it," he said. "Even with issues Samantha may have had in high school, she put that behind her, and I have no doubt she will be very successful."

Loose will continue her teaching and tutoring, both in Davenport and Bettendorf. She expects to apply to the doctorate program in Iowa City in December. 

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