UA police officer’s unexpected journey leads to career highlight
One’s career path is never set in stone. It changes over time, and opportunities arise from unexpected places. For Angela Paonessa, police captain for The University of Akron Police Department (UAPD), an unexpected opportunity led to a highlight in her professional career.
Paonessa’s journey to becoming a captain for UAPD was one of chance; she never intended to join law enforcement. Rather she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Education and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Adult Fitness at The University of Akron (UA). While pursuing her studies and after, she worked in risk management for seven years, which led her to meet officers from the Akron Police Department who convinced her to take the officer placement test.
“I took the test just for fun and ended up scoring tenth out of three thousand people and I became an officer. The role just fell upon me, and I ended up really loving it,” said Paonessa.
A familiar feeling
During her time at UA, she was gifted another opportunity, one that only two currently-serving UAPD officers have had the chance to receive. Oddly enough, this opportunity would have an all too familiar feeling for Paonessa.
Paonessa was nominated and accepted to participate in the FBI National Academy training (FBINA), a prestigious training academy of 254 domestic and international law enforcement personnel who are trained in skills in leadership, investigative management, fitness and professional communications. FBINA training is held in a college-like environment: participants can attend undergraduate and master-level courses over 10 weeks.
“We were in the classroom setting for most of our classes where we did presentations. wrote papers and had guest speakers,” she said. “It was like we were in college; some classes are bachelor-level difficulty and some are a master-level difficulty, while having fitness challenges.”
Paonessa shared a room in a residence hall with her classmates, building meaningful relationships, taking trips and experiencing a college-like life.
“I was basically sharing a room with another person and we shared a bathroom with the suite next to us,” she said. “My classmates and I would also go on trips to places such as the Pentagon, Philadelphia and the Capital. I really got to know everybody, and it really was just like college again.”
It's not just a brick, it's yellow
FBINA brought many valuable moments for Paonessa, but the most memorable came at the end of the 10 weeks when she completed the Yellow Brick Road Challenge. The challenge consisted of a 6.2-mile run through the Quantico Marine Base obstacle course. However, the course is in a forest with hilly terrain.
Angela and her classmates were not simply thrown into the challenge, rather they trained for it from the start of the 10 weeks. “We trained 3-4 times a week, each week having different challenges, such as a 5k. We also had great trainers to help us along the way,” she said.
“But the Yellow Brick Road challenge was tough. We were climbing up and down ropes, climbing over cliffs, going over logs and walls. and it was raining that day,” she said. “But everyone was cheering each other on, from start to finish.”
Once she completed the challenge, she was awarded a yellow brick, with the engraving “Yellow Brick Road #285”, symbolizing their graduation and dedication to the training.
More than just classes
Paonessa reflected on the importance of building connections during the 10 weeks and how it will impact her in the coming years professionally and personally.
“Connecting with different law enforcement personnel around the world has been great. If I need something from California, I can call a friend in California because I met him at the event. I met someone from Ireland and we become good friends, and if I ever need anything from Ireland, I can call her,” she said. “Being able to build a personal and professional connection with many different peoples was the best thing and the most important part of the event,”
Story by Beau Balizet
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