Elizabeth Rekstad could be the "poster child" for the Minnesota Association of Women Police.
When she graduates from Central Lakes College on May 16, the Little Falls mother of three will have taken just 16 months to master a two-year criminal justice program.
MAWP recognized Rekstad's dedication and potential by awarding her its 2002 Karen Rice Memorial Scholarship. The $450 grant helps defray expenses incurred in pursuit of peace officer licensure.
"She is very deserving of the state scholarship and all other financial aid," said Terry Fairbanks, CLC instructor. The college foundation granted a $300 scholarship last fall.
The Minnesota Sheriff's Association last week awarded her a $600 scholarship.
Rekstad is fast-tracking herself toward licensure. This semester she took 29 credits worth of course work, including four credits from Bemidji State University.
At age 35 and with sons ages 16, 14 and 12, Rekstad and her husband figured she could handle a bit more intensity. She is highly motivated for a law enforcement job.
"Emergency" could be her middle name. She has a record of steadiness and professionalism.
Rekstad works 30 hours per week as a Morrison County sheriff's dispatcher. The job has added to her ability to manage stress and keep cool when chaos is in the air.
For eight years, she responded to emergency calls as an emergency medical technician. Doctors ended that career after she was injured a second time by a traffic accident in the line of duty. She is physically fine but was relieved of EMT duties that include heavy lifting.
Rekstad enjoyed the pressure-packed, fast-paced work that goes with ambulance response. "I loved that end of it," she said.
The last six years, Rekstad has been a dispatcher, working alone in a small room with her lunch often going stale and no bathroom break until a deputy covers for her. "We have only one dispatcher on at a time," she said.
Occasionally on her job in Little Falls, Rekstad pulls the 8 1/2-hour "dog shift" from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., and sometimes she will work a 12-hour stint. That leaves little sleep time before driving to Brainerd for classes four days per week.
Twice a week her school day extends until 9 p.m. for evening courses that include those required for the criminal justice associate in applied science degree.
Rekstad began the term in January registered for 15 credits. She was on pace to finish in December 2002 and be work-certified by February 2003. She was anxious. Late in February she made a decision.
Six weeks into the semester she received approval from college officials to take eight classes and an internship, she said.
Five classes are on the Brainerd campus. Three are independent study and account for 10 credits. Toughest among them is police process provided through the BSU extended learning program. Rick Kangas, CLC counselor, is a proctor for each test in the BSU course.
She compressed four months of college course work into two.
On May 17 in Brainerd she graduates after 16 months in the program designed to take most two years to complete. She took an unusually large summer load, 11 credits, in 2001.
Following graduation with the AAS degree, Rekstad must spend seven weeks in Hibbing for required hands-on training. She will learn defensive tactics, hand-cuffing, the use and care of weapons, traffic stops, DUI enforcement, emergency driving and other crucial skills.
That's where the latest scholarship comes in. It was established to assist with costs to obtain this training, the $450 originally covering the entire tuition. Today tuition is about $2,000. Rekstad must pay her living expenses, book fees and equipment costs for items not borrowed.
In August she will sit for the Peace Officers Standards and Training, or POST board, the final examination that determines one's suitability for work as a peace officer in Minnesota.
Her goal is to be employable by late summer.
Rekstad could become the second female deputy in the Morrison County Sheriff's Department. Her husband, Bruce, and sons, Joshua, Cody and Zachary, would expect to see a lot more of her.
"They've been so supportive," Rekstad said. "They have sacrificed, picked up the slack with household chores and everything.
"My husband told me to either get going on this degree or quit talking about it."
She has had to miss track meets, prom festivities and other traditions in an active household. She's already been a leader in Cub Scouts, the parent-teacher association, mathematics study support, the gifted reading program and American Cancer Society fund-raising.
Her colleagues in Morrison County also have encouraged her to work toward law enforcement credentials. "Some places still don't embrace the concept and operate as the 'good old boys club' or hung up on strength and size issues," she said. "Fortunately, I am in a place where you need only prove yourself in technique.
"Research indicates women are de-escalators and tend not to push buttons that send situations the other way."
She is achieving what many can merely dream of accomplishing. Rekstad has attained a 3.8 grade-point average, earning her membership in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Some say she puts an inordinate amount of pressure on herself to do well.
Where could her hard work lead? The State Patrol has about a dozen female troopers.
"A state job like that is a good one, especially with the benefits," Rekstad said. "But who knows where you wind up working. It might be the metro (Twin Cities). We want to be in this area. My husband is from Little Falls, the boys have many friends and have grown up here."
With retirements in Morrison County and her knowledge of that department and the area, Rekstad is hoping to stay in the area where she is established.
She will keep herself busy.
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