A new gift will increase access to, and fund, scholarships for a fast-growing public safety graduate program at the University of Virginia.
Gordon Graham, co-founder of public safety services firm Lexipol, and his wife Reneé donated $100,000 to establish the Lexipol Public Safety Fellowship Fund for the Master of Public Safety program in UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
“I’m hopeful that my seed money will encourage others to recognize the value of what people are doing at UVA through this program, and that it will help improve the quality of law enforcement education,” Graham said.
The donation establishes an endowment that will fund student scholarships. To begin, it will cover partial tuition for one student per year, with plans to expand it and serve more students, said Bryon Gustafson, director of the Master of Public Safety program.
“I am inspired by Reneé and Gordon Graham’s gift,” Gustafson said. “They are investing in the kind of public safety systems excellence that Gordon has envisioned and elevated for decades. Having the fellowship carry the Lexipol name underscores the system-wide perspective that our program embraces.”
The gift comes at a time of growth for the MPS program, which is designed to help shape the next generation of public service leaders. It welcomed its first students in the summer of 2021 and has now enrolled nearly 200 students. The program is online and designed for working professionals, and its students include leaders from public safety organizations across the country.
“We are deeply grateful for the Graham’s generous gift,” Melissa Lubin, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, said. “The students in our Master of Public Safety program are working adults who are dedicated to their profession. Providing scholarships enhances access for new students to this program and helps directly contribute to the public good.”
Graham, who also teaches in the program, said he was motivated to make the gift for the same reason he founded Lexipol: he believes education is the most effective way to improve public safety organizations and train its leaders.
Graham is a famous figure in law enforcement training circles. He began his 33-year career in California law enforcement as a motorcycle patrol officer – even appearing as a guest in several episodes of NBC’s “CHiPs” television series in the 1980s – and simultaneously took night classes to earn his teaching certificate, a master’s degree from the Institute of Safety and Systems Management at the University of Southern California, and eventually a law degree.
The experience of taking law classes while working full-time made Graham appreciate the value of programs like UVA’s Master of Public Safety, he said. In law school, he saw firsthand how nontraditional education can lift people up. He recalls classmates with children, including women who were pregnant or nursing, who would regularly be among the best students in the class. Yet women are still largely underrepresented in public safety leadership roles, he said. Part of the scholarship’s purpose is to increase access for women in the program and leadership in the profession.
After co-founding Lexipol, Graham traveled the country as a guest speaker on police training and public safety issues.
In the MPS program at UVA, he teaches risk management, a topic near and dear to his heart and the subject of much of his public speaking. He said the MPS program combines academic instruction with practical skills that many leaders need, such as how to develop a budget.
“What does your average cop know about budgeting? Without education in this area, cops who become leaders will have to rely on from their department for training, which will probably teach them an out-of-date approach,” he said.
Other courses in the program focus on areas such as building community relationships, developing effective leadership skills, collaborating with peer agencies, and more.