Whether it’s hands-on activities in the classroom or a field trip to a prison, Dr. Dante Pentington, associate professor of criminal justice at Northeastern Junior College, is always finding unique ways to engage his students.
“In the area of instruction, Dante does incredible work. His courses are hands-on, engaging, and filled with activities. Dante builds a wonderful rapport with his students. He maintains a high level of academic rigor in his classes, in a fun environment where everyone has a good time,” said his Crystal Apple Award nominator, Celeste Delgado-Pelton.
Penington has been teaching as both an adjunct instructor and then associate professor since 2006, first at Westwood College and then at Southwestern College and NJC. He has lead NJC’s Criminal Justice Department for the past eight years, teaching a full course load of 15 credit hours in criminal justice courses per semester, including in-person, online, hybrid and remote learning formats.
“I like the college, it’s a good environment, the faculty and staff is awesome, the students are great, plus I like teaching,” he said about what has kept him at the college. “I think my favorite part is the interactions with the students that we have, the engagement that we have, both in and out of the classroom. Being able to work with them hands-on and then working with them outside of class, in a field project of some sort, or club of some sort.”
Penington’s education includes a doctorate in public safety with an emphasis in criminal justice from Capella University, a Master of Criminal Justice degree from the University of Colorado, in Denver, and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology from the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
His professional experience comes from corrections and investigations, which involves over four years of supervising convicted offenders in a halfway house and as a case manager supervising 20 clients on electronic monitoring for a private company (Intervention). Additionally, he has extensive experience in background investigations, fraud, and workplace investigations, including five years as President/CEO of Criminal Data Reports, a company he started that conducts criminal background investigations and drug testing. From 2014 to 2017, he was one of NJC’s Title IX investigators, mostly involving sexual assault cases.
At NJC, he has developed and built a criminal justice program that has grown to over 60 students (pre-pandemic) from ten students in 2014. Over the last couple of years, Penington’s efforts focused on concurrent enrollment students, full and part-time workers with the creation of two new certificate programs, 16 credits each: Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology. Both of these certificates are stepping stones to achieving a two-year degree in criminal justice and psychology. He has also developed partnerships with local agencies like the Sterling Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Department of Corrections, Logan County Sheriff, and Sterling Fire Department, which has led to developing internship programs and many corroborative activities.
As an instructor, Penington has done tremendous work and research regarding Open Education Resources and has implemented OER to create more equitable courses. Penington first started looking into OER four or five years ago when he realized that his introduction to criminal justice textbook was the second most expensive textbook on campus. Now, 90% of his classes have no textbook costs because he has an online textbook.
“I found resources to use that were freely available and built my courses around those materials. Now instead of paying $260 for a textbook they pay $0, so it saves them quite a bit of money,” Penington said, explaining that textbook costs can be a big expense for students and because of that a lot of them wouldn’t even purchase textbooks, which then created a disparity. “I’m trying to give everybody access to materials, so they can all learn and not have that disparity or that inability to look at material in a textbook.”
His courses are designed to focus on inclusive teaching practices and implement many elements of Universal Design for Learning. These practices create a classroom environment where diverse learners feel a sense of belonging, and Penington’s teaching approaches are equitable.
Students are provided access to information and skills to be learned through multiple modalities, like textbooks (OER), auditory and visual means, and supporting this perception information with context. This allows students to interact with the materials, communicate their learning, and demonstrate their knowledge and ability.
“Student engagement is important to me in and out of the classroom. This starts with giving all students a voice and making them feel like they belong and are respected as individuals and members of groups,” Penington said.
He keeps his classes innovative through the use of cutting edge technology used in the field of criminal justice today and even wrote for and received a $20,000 Title III grant to fund the creation of a forensics lab on campus and create two certificate programs in forensic psychology and criminal justice.
“Basically it’s kind of a makeshift crime lab,” Penington said. “We have classes in there and they can do certain types of forensic analysis, I use it for my crime scene investigation class and my forensic science class.”
The lab is equipped with microscopes to examine crime scene evidence such as hair, fiber and blood and determine if it came from an animal or a human. Right now, his students are learning how to do blood spatter analysis.
Outside of the classroom, Penington takes all of his classes to visit the Sterling Correctional facility, where students observe the actual workings of a prison and can apply this concrete experience to the concepts learned in their criminal justice courses.
In addition, he is an advisor for the Criminal Justice Club on campus and the newly formed Social Media Club.
The CRJ Club is very active, fundraising weekly so they can tour prisons and jails across the country, and take field trips to CRJ related destinations, which have included a 24-hour field trip to Alcatraz. Penington said over the years the club has visited almost all of the prisons in Colorado, as well as the L.A. County Jail.
Unfortunately, the club hasn’t been able to do any traveling the last couple of years because of COVID-19, but they hope to be able to do so again soon.
The Social Media Club was formed this academic year to promote Northeastern, its programs, and events through social media. While Penington had the initial idea for the club, he wasn’t sure he wanted to take it on himself, but he was able to get it going with the help of fellow faculty member Will Ross.
“We have a good time. We do field trips; we went down to Denver Art District, in downtown Denver, on First Fridays they open up all of the galleries and you can go visit. We’ve done that twice,” Penington said.
Along with teaching and mentoring students, Penington has done considerable instructional design work mentoring new faculty and designing First-Year Faculty Experience, a course created to aid in teaching, learning, and technology for first-year instructors. Plus, he serves as the academic liaison for liberal arts, which has him working with faculty to help design the class schedule each semester for all courses in liberal arts.
Additionally, Delgado-Pelton shared that Pengington is extremely gifted with technology and oversees the Innovation and Technology Center on campus and teaches a Teaching, Learning, and Technology course for NJC’s education majors.
But it’s not all work, Penington knows how to have fun too. In the Liberal Arts Department, he has the unofficial title of being the “Captain of Fun” and constantly schedules activities like a chili cook-off, secret Santa gift exchange, weekly lunches in the cafeteria and more.
“Dante Penington is a tremendous asset to NJC, and it is a joy and an honor to work with him,” Delgado-Pelton said.