Major Frank Carpenter first moved to Virginia 30 years ago, a fresh-faced college graduate ready to join the ranks of the Petersburg Bureau of Police outside Chesterfield.
The Maryland native graduated from Bowie State University after earning a football scholarship, studying sociology and criminal justice, and he applied for the Petersburg job in part because his mother was living in Chesterfield at the time.
Now, three decades into a law enforcement career that has taken him to Chesterfield County, he’ll graduate again, this time from the University of Virginia’s Master of Public Safety program. Carpenter is among the new program’s first 29 graduates, and he’ll walk the Lawn this month at Final Exercises with his classmates. It will be a true “full circle” moment as Carpenter was born at the UVA Hospital more than 50 years ago.
“I’ve got to be honest, it had been years since I’d done my undergraduate work, and I had reservations about entering such deep waters,” Carpenter said recently of his decision to go back to school. “The program has been extremely challenging, but also thought-provoking. It’s called for us to think outside of the box and think about policing from a different perspective.”
The Master of Public Safety program launched in 2021 in UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and is a part-time program designed for non-traditional college students who are often working adults.
Carpenter, like many of his classmates, is in a leadership position after many years of police work. He’s served as a patrol officer, a sergeant, in a variety of investigative roles – including on a narcotics taskforce drawn from several departments during his time in Petersburg. He came to Chesterfield County’s department looking for new opportunities.
“I bought my first house, had my first child, and worked as a reservist in the U.S. Army as a commissioned military police officer,” Carpenter recalled.
After more than 22 years with Chesterfield County, Carpenter has progressed up the ranks —from sergeant to lieutenant to captain, and now major — and is running one of the department’s four bureaus. This background made him a good fit for the Master of Public Safety at UVA, which is designed to help career public safety officials further develop their leadership skills.
“Frank is exactly who we’re looking for in an MPS student,” said Bryon Gustafson, assistant professor and director of the Master of Public Safety program. “He’s in the ‘power band’ of his career. Frank has experienced the full range of public safety challenges and is positioned as a leader to influence key decisions that will impact his organization, community and the next generation of police professionals.”
The program is online and designed for working professionals who are already balancing other obligations, including family. Carpenter has two children in college.
Entering graduate school at a time when police work is under intense public pressure made the course work immediately relevant, Carpenter said.
“The program provides a diverse perspective, not only from police but also from the community,” he said. “The instructors challenged us to see things from different perspectives and to share our own personal perspectives for other students. It did not marginalize the noble profession itself – in fact, it lifted it up – but it was designed for us to talk through some of the things that we’re currently going through as a society.”
Both Carpenter and Gustafson credited the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration as an important feature of the program.
“An essential outgrowth of the MPS is the faculty, student – and soon, alumni – network,” Gustafson said. “There’s a powerful synergy among this group of professionals. It creates a learning community where individuals can reach out to colleagues or the larger collective and get advice or support. It’s a little like crowd sourcing from a focused cohort of experts.”
More information on the program is available on the UVA SCPS website.