For Jim Kelly ’18, earning an associate degree in Liberal Arts at age 42 empowered him more than he could have imagined when he decided to enroll at OCC. Not only did the married father of two graduate with a 4.0 GPA, but he was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and a nominee to the PTK All-American Academic Team. And he did it all while working full-time as a sergeant with the Brick Township Police Department.
Not only did the married father of two graduate with a 4.0 GPA, but he was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and a nominee to the PTK All-American Academic Team. And he did it all while working full-time as a sergeant with the Brick Township Police Department.
“After high school, I was just stubborn — and didn’t really think about college,” Kelly explained. “I was a bass player and songwriter with the band Black Feet. We toured the east coast, put out a couple CDs, were on the radio and opened for some big acts. I chased that dream for six years.”
After meeting and marrying Liza – to whom he has been married for more than 20 years – Kelly held a variety of jobs, including working for ShopRite and Coca-Cola, until he was hired as a police officer in 2006. While studying for the exam to be promoted to sergeant, he read a lot of case law and decided he wanted to go to law school.
“I was impressed with the writing, argument, persuasion, and more about the law,” he said. “I Googled ‘going to law school,’ and discovered I would need an undergraduate degree first.” Although Kelly lived in Brick Township at the time, he had moved around a lot as a child, and wasn’t that familiar with Ocean County College. When he began to explore education options, it just seemed natural to start with community college.
“I remember the first time I walked onto the campus. I fell in love with it and all the possibilities. As I learned more about learning, I became an OCC super fan,” Kelly noted. “I kept asking, ‘What’s next?’
“I’m beyond proud of myself for graduating from OCC. It was later in life that I valued getting an education and OCC reinforced that. I felt enlightened after that experience.”
Now a senior in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, Kelly will earn a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy with a History minor. He continues to hold a 4.0 GPA and is a member of Phi Sigma Tau, the international honor society for Philosophy.
As an instructor at the Ocean County Police Academy, Kelly teaches several courses: The Principles of Arrest, Search and Seizure, Use of Force, and Cultural Diversity. He also created a curriculum with the Ocean County Health Department’s County Alcohol and Drug Coordinator that teaches police recruits the tenets and best practices of responding to substance use disorder in their community. That curriculum is currently being taught to police recruits at the academy.
Kelly supervises the community policing function of his three-person unit and acts as the Public Information Officer. He also does public and community relations work with youth, seniors, the addictions and recovery community, mental health professionals, clergy, minority youth, and education professionals.
“I also participate in several projects that the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office oversees and administers, one of which includes my participation in the Michael Camillus Project, through which I study addictions and recovery to earn my Certificate of Completion in Alcohol and Drug Counseling from OCC,” Kelly remarked.
“The College is so innovative with these programs, services, and partnerships. It’s cutting-edge. And we need this in Ocean County, where there is not enough drug awareness and inter-diction in the school districts.”
He calls Ocean County College a “beacon” for shining a light on public health issues and for taking action to help deal with them.
Kelly will always be grateful for the scholarships he received while an OCC student. In addition to an Honors by Contract Scholarship and several general scholarships from the OCC Foundation, he also won the Carleen Sterling Orsi Memorial Renewal Award.
“These scholarships helped me tremendously,” said Kelly. “First, although I have a steady and reliable income, paying for college on top of the costs of raising a family is a burden, and the scholarship money was a true relief.”
The scholarships also acted as a catalyst to persevere, encouraging him to press on with his academic pursuits. “The awards told me that my grit was worth it and my efforts were recognized.
“Last but not least, the scholarships showed my two children that hard work and effort are worthy qualities. They saw me working hard and then they saw me rewarded for it and that’s important,” he added.
This is why Kelly has decided to work with OCC’s Why I Give campaign to establish a named scholarship for graduating non-traditional students.
“I’m naming it the Janet Thompson Memorial Award after my mother, who was one of the smartest and hardest-working people I have known. I want those non-traditional students who work full-time to be recognized for their efforts to better themselves through education and for the dedication it takes to make that happen.”
A self-proclaimed “problem student” growing up, Kelly said “something has to click in a person [to recognize why education is important], and I am thankful for the outstanding education and opportunities OCC gave me.”
Kelly keeps his PTK stole and medal from the state competition framed with his graduation tassel near his desk. He maintains his grades and participation to ensure he is a “good law school applicant,” as he looks ahead at the next step in his education.