Criminology and criminal justice graduate Hayden Steingruby hopes to enter St. Louis Police Academy

Hayden Steingruby standing on the third floor of the MSC

Hayden Steingruby graduated summa cum laude with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Now that Hayden Steingruby has taken his walk across the commencement stage at the University of Missouri–St. Louis after graduating summa cum laude with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice and a bachelor’s in anthropology, the wait is on to begin the first phase of his career journey.

Steingruby is planning to enter the St. Louis Police Academy, hoping it will prepare him to make a difference in some of the city neighborhoods most impacted by crime. He also wants to serve as an officer in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department because he thinks it will provide him with a level of credibility when he pursues the next phase of his plan: returning to UMSL to pursue a PhD and engage in research on policing and police culture.

“I want any research I would do in the future to be able to be applied practically,” Steingruby said. “I know there are a lot of police officers who, just from my experience and talking to them, when they hear, ‘Oh, this researcher does study,’ or ‘Oh, this professor did a study,’ they kind of wrinkle their nose and say, ‘Hey, they have never worked this job a day in their life,’ and ‘Why should we listen to them?’ and those sorts of things.

“I think from a trust-building perspective, for anything that I want to study or anything that I would like to change, if they hear, ‘Oh, this idea came from somebody who did the job, has had these experiences’ – especially in a major city like St. Louis – I feel like it’ll give me a different perspective. It’ll give me a different in with the people I’m trying to work with.”

He is particularly interested in looking at how stress impacts police officers and their mental health.

Steingruby traces his interest in law enforcement to high school. As part of his senior service project at St. Louis University High School, he spent nearly a month working in a third-grade classroom at Lafayette Preparatory Academy. He got to spend a lot of time interacting with the kids and built connections with several of them.

One boy spotted him on a Monday morning and was eager to tell Steingruby about something that happened over the weekend. Steingruby expected he was going to share something about a movie he watched or some new Pokémon cards he’d gotten.

“Instead, he looked at me in the most nonchalant voice and he goes, ‘Somebody got shot outside my house last night,’” Steingruby said. “It’s this little third grader who’s saying this like it’s normal to him. I thought, ‘That’s not OK. Somebody needs to do something. No kid should have to say that at all, let alone that it be normal in their neighborhood.’ And that’s really the point where I said, ‘I want to go to the city PD, and I want to work there.’”

Before he finished high school or chose a college, he applied to be part of the St. Louis Police Cadet Program. The program is designed to provide interested individuals between the ages of 18 and 23 with paid, on-the-job training and exposure to different units within the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Cadets have the chance to earn course credit while helping prepare themselves for success upon entering the St. Louis Police Academy.

Steingruby began the onboarding process shortly after earning his high diploma in June of 2019. He was assigned to the crime lab and worked there throughout his time in college, performing various administrative tasks and maintaining chain of custody with evidence that gets brought into the lab.

“It’s been one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “I get to do a lot of meaningful work.”

Steingruby said his decision to attend UMSL was one he made at the last minute. He’d been going back and forth weighing three different schools but ended up deciding on UMSL because of the reputation of the criminology and criminal justice program – consistently ranked among the top graduate programs in the country – and the scholarships it provided him. He received the Chancellor’s Scholarship as well as scholarships from the Pierre Laclede Honors College during his time at the university.

He still got even more than he bargained for.

“UMSL has really been a hidden gem,” Steingruby said. “I was really impressed, and I think it was one of the better decisions I’ve made – just from a quality of the education perspective and also from an affordability perspective. Being able to work with my class schedule and my actual work schedule, it just all aligned really nicely. It was a very positive experience.”

Steingruby started his college career with a significant number of credits earned while still in high school, so he was able to participate in the 2+3 program and earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and still graduate in four years.

He also decided to add anthropology as a second major after having his interest piqued by courses in biological anthropology and forensic anthropology.

“My anthropology undergrad experience was something that was amazing and completely unexpected in that regard,” Steingruby said. “I just kind of fell into that and loved it. It’s been a good experience, and it’s really taught me again, thinking about a broader system and thinking about it critically and how to write and write well and express complex ideas in a way that everybody can understand.”

Steingruby has impressed his professors along the way with his aptitude. He was enrolled in Professor Lee Slocum’s graduate-level criminological theory course earlier this year alongside a mixture of master’s and doctoral students.

“Hayden’s work was indistinguishable from that of the PhD students,” Slocum said. “His success can be attributed not only to his intelligence but also to his strong work ethic and inquisitive nature.”

Steingruby has also spent the past year working with Slocum as a graduate research assistant, helping on a project focused on redefining community safety.

The project is intended to explored attitudes about community safety in three counties – St. Louis County, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and Missoula County in Montana. Slocum and her colleagues in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Department of Political Science and the Community Innovation and Action Center have conducted interviews with and surveyed residents, public safety officers and other officials about what community safety looks like to them.

Steingruby has helped transcribe some of the interviews, among other tasks, and had his perspective widened about what people value as part of public safety.

“Traditionally, we think fire, police, EMS, but there are a lot of people who are talking about, ‘We need more of the social services, we need environmental protections, we need access to these resources, we need a government that’s open and trustworthy,’” he said. “There’s all these things that you normally wouldn’t expect people to say that relate to public safety but that for them are important to their understanding of public safety and what public safety should look like. It really goes back to the whole goal, which is redefining public safety.”

His experience has only strengthened his desire to engage in research as part of his future after first working in the field.


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