A small town brought big opportunities for New York native Nicole Shapiro

Senior Nicole Shapiro has been interested in Criminal Justice since she was a young girl looking up to her father, then the Chief of the Department of Corrections for New York state. However, it wasn’t until she got to Lees-McRae that this childhood interest evolved into a career plan.

Shapiro said that she experienced a bit of culture shock when she first visited Banner Elk from her hometown of New York City, but after receiving a soccer scholarship, she decided to give a small-school experience a try. Shapiro came to Banner Elk excited to play the sport she loves and with the goal of entering the medical field.

“I actually came into Lees-McRae as a nursing major, and I took one Intro to Criminal Justice class as an elective. The professor I had at that time, Dr. Logan, was just like ‘You’re not doing the right thing by being in nursing, you’re meant to be a criminal justice major,’” Shapiro said. “I switched majors after that.”

Since switching majors Shapiro has fallen in love with the discipline and not looked back. She knew right away that she wanted to be a police officer in a larger city where she could bring all she learned from her time in rural Appalachia back to the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Her hard work started in the classroom where she built close relationships with her professors, who she says have become her mentors. She was able to first apply her knowledge out in the field during her internship with the Avery County Sheriff's Office.

“That internship really helped me learn how to communicate with all the personnel that comes along with law enforcement,” Shapiro said. “You meet a lot of different people, and there is definitely a slower pace of living here whereas I am used to go, go, go. It kind of calmed me down a little.”

Her hard work paid off and all her dreams are now coming true as Shapiro has already been hired for post-grad work as a police officer with the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington D.C. In this position, Shapiro will be securing the Capitol Building and acting as a liaison for congressmen and congresswomen.

She cites her time at Lees-McRae as foundational in preparing her for this role, particularly noting that her time on the soccer team at Lees-McRae has prepared her to work with others in her professional career.

“In the position I’ll be doing, it’s a close-bonded team, and you have to be able to work together, and I think soccer really helped me learn those skills,” Shapiro said. “You have to have good, open communication in order to get your message across in a respectful manner so that it doesn’t change the environment of the team or squad.”

While she says soccer has helped her develop teamwork and stress management skills, Shapiro said that the most impactful part of her undergraduate career has been the strong relationships that she built with her professors who have prepared her to be successful in this difficult role as a federal police officer.

“I think the professors have been the most important and best part of my experience here at Lees-McRae. They really do care so much,” Shapiro said. “They’re almost like a parent or something because they truly want to see you succeed and they want to give you the tools to do so. My Intro to Criminal Justice professor is now retired, but she heard that I got this job and she reached out to me just to congratulate me. It’s like I’m not even graduating from the school, because I have built almost familial bonds.”

While she is excited to experience all her career field has to offer outside of Lees-McRae, Shapiro said that she will always have a strong emotional connection to the college. After attending the 100 Days Until Graduation event for seniors in January and learning more about the ways she can stay involved with Lees-McRae as an alumnus, Shapiro knows she will always be a Bobcat.

“Lees-McRae has given me a lot of tools to really set me up for success in a stressful environment like I will be experiencing at work and has prepared me to work with others,” Shapiro said. “I don’t think I would have necessarily gotten those things from a bigger university where you’re just a number.”

By Maya JarrellMarch 24, 2022
Campus LifeAcademics