Criminal Justice celebrates first graduating class.

Jason Ross, former U.S. Army sergeant and La Sierra University graduate, is charting a new path in criminal justice. Photo by Natan Vigna.

June 13, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) Former U.S. Army Sergeant Jason Ross survived two tours of duty in Iraq, then returned stateside armed with military discipline and faith in God, and tackled a different set of challenges.

On June 16, Ross, a Corona resident, will reap the results of his determination to stay the course in the face of stressful financial obstacles when he becomes one of La Sierra University’s first recipients of a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. He will also be the first of his siblings to obtain a college degree, an achievement he plans to celebrate with his parents, Barbara Jean Wesley and Larry Ross, who traveled from Virginia to attend commencement. The ceremony will take place at 8 a.m. on the university’s Founders’ Green.

Ross arrived in Corona in February 2010 following the end of his term of service with the military in 2007. A Virginia native and much-travelled son of a military family, Ross moved to Corona to be closer to his daughters ages eight and 12, and to an uncle who lives in the area.  

“I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have a job and I was just getting out of the military,” Ross said. “I did know that I wanted to go to school.”

While friends had suggested other schools, he chose to enroll at La Sierra because he liked the look and feel of the campus as he walked past its main entrance along Riverwalk Parkway. “There was something about La Sierra,” Ross said. “Something about it was low-key. I didn’t want to go to a school with a lot of party [activities] to take me away from my goals.”

He enrolled in the university’s fledgling Criminal Justice program aiming for a career in law or federal law enforcement. He transferred previous course credits earned several years earlier at Grambling State University in Louisiana. A recipient of the G.I. Bill education assistance program, Ross encountered red tape and lengthy delays in acquiring the necessary funds for tuition and other expenses, and faced the daunting task of finding a means of supporting himself. “It has been a struggle,” Ross said. “I have had to learn to do things for myself, to be a go-getter.”

To make ends meet, he made use of disparate skills he acquired over many years, jumping into two entrepreneurial ventures. He began offering custom picture framing and dry mount services through his company, Vex Groove Discount Art and Framing, and recreational vehicle general and engine maintenance and repair through Ross Mobile Services. He also took a part-time job at arts and crafts retailer Michaels in the store’s framing department.

“I had to figure out some way to make fast money by doing something I know how to do,” Ross said.

Ross’s picture framing interests are the result of happenstance. In 2007, he agreed to fill in for his mother who could not take time off work from her duties as a sheriff’s deputy to attend a two-day custom framing class. The experience sparked an interest in Ross who obtained additional frame design training at Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores. The company then sent him for framing education at Larson Juhl Custom Framing. What started out as a favor for his mother resulted in a genuine interest in framing that led to a means of self-support while earning a college degree. “It’s pretty much my biggest hobby,” said Ross.

Ross’s mechanical skills derive from his training and work on Apache helicopters while stationed four years at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Despite the hurdles, Ross says his La Sierra experience has been “great.” He values skills learned in his classes such as writing and communication, and rules of evidence used in legal proceedings. He also received the direct attention afforded students of smaller universities when during an unexpected illness, faculty worked with Ross to ensure he could complete his classes.

“Through hard work, dedication and sometimes not knowing how it would all work out Jason has persevered to earn his B.S. in Criminal Justice,” said Cindy Parkhurst, Criminal Justice onsite program director. “His common sense, real world approach to situations is appreciated and his willingness to work hard to master material is applauded by all his faculty.”

After joining the Army in 2001, Ross served two tours in Iraq -- nine months between 2002-2003 in Mosul followed by re-deployment to Balad and Baghdad. His job as a 13B artillery crewmember travelling with top military commanders was a dangerous assignment. “Every day we had to worry about someone shooting,” or of detonating improvised explosive devices, he said. “It was a tough position,” said Ross, but one that allowed him insight into the operations of military leaders.

Ross’s father served as an Army private and his mother served 20 years in the military, retiring as a sergeant First Class. Ross grew up in a variety of places – four-and-a-half years in the Netherlands, a couple of months in Belgium and Germany followed by four years in New York. “The experience in Europe was beautiful,” Ross said. “The culture was different. I had to adapt when I came back [to the U.S.].” He graduated from high school in Virginia, home state for both sides of his family.

Ross’s military training and experiences provided additional strength of mind and character that have served him well during his educational challenges. “The discipline I received [in the military] is the key to my success here. Hopefully it will also carry over as I pursue a career in law enforcement as a lawyer or federal agent someday,” he said.

His Christian faith has also been a strong source of support and guidance during his time at La Sierra. Ross’s father is a church pastor of over 30 years, and his mother has served as a missionary. “Growing up in church gave me the foundation that I have today to understand patience, moral standing, and faith,” he said.

With his spiritual roots, Ross says he is also interested in obtaining a Master of Divinity degree one day. Said the graduate, “This would make my parents proud, although I know they already are.”

  • Last update on  June 14, 2013