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Alumni Spotlight: Claudia Vercellotti, MS in CJ Graduate

Meet Claudia Vercellotti
Tiffin University MS in CJ Graduate
Advocate for Victim Rights

Could you tell us about your background? (hometown, education, etc.)
I was born, adopted at 3 weeks of age and raised in Toledo, Ohio in a loving family, where I was the middle child and only girl. Fortunately, raised with two brothers, I was pushed at a young age to believe that I could do anything the boys could do.

My first job beyond a paper route, was at the Toledo Zoo, where at age 14 or 15, I rode a bike 8 miles each way and earned $3.00 an hour, making cotton candy and homemade lemonade. I worked under the leadership of Kay Ball, my earliest professional mentor. I looked up to her because she was such a strong woman, good with numbers, incredibly honest with an infectious laugh, an incredible work ethic, and had an uncanny ability to advocate and motivate people by empowering them.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, with an emphasis in psychology from the University of Cincinnati. I earned my master’s degree in criminal justice (MCJ) with an emphasis in forensic psychology from Tiffin University. Most recently, I have completed 54 post graduate hours and earned graduate certifications in child advocacy, patient advocacy, elder law & gerontological practice from the University of Toledo. I have also earned national credentials that enable me to represent claimants seeking disability benefits administratively before Social Security.

I have spent much of my career as an advocate, in some capacity, as a volunteer or working in the public and private sector, business, healthcare and non-profits organizations. I spent a significant number of years working as an investigative research interviewer, where I did a lot of street tracking and traveled in out of prisons, interviewing people, and gathering their life narratives under several amazing sociologists. It is there where I learned that “what” people do, isn’t nearly as interesting as “why” people do what they do.

What pushed you to be an advocate?
Arguably, my roots in advocacy were started on the day I was born to a single, unwed woman in the 1960’s and she “fought” with hospital administrators to hold me, before placing me for adoption. This was a terrible time in American history when unwed, single mothers who chose to carry their baby to term and relinquish were treated like criminals and lepers instead of being supported for their courage. It was OTJ (on the job training), I’m sure.

What do you love about being an advocate?
Advocacy has been my vocation and avocation in some capacity for my entire adult life, and before. Whether I’m advocating for crime victims’ rights, patient rights or the rights of kids, I most love the opportunity to shape policy and influence, in some small way, these important dialogues that can directly impact the quality of life for many. I love effecting change and seeing that change implemented.

What keeps you inspired?
People. I never care what people do, rather I’m interested in “why” people do what they do. I am inspired by the courage of others, especially in times of crisis. I am inspired by the need for our collective consciousness to be raised and our voices heard to impact meaningful change. Most of all, I am inspired by kids. If we can’t protect the most vulnerable among us, what good can any of us do?

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
It’s a tossup….
Personally, years ago, I helped facilitate a private adoption of a young child whose Mom has since passed. I was really humbled to walk that road with her and the adopting family. I remain in awe of their collective selflessness and the power of God, I’ve never thought of that experience, the timing of it all, as anything less than a miracle.  Who doesn’t want to bear witness to a miracle in their lifetime?

Professionally, I am proud of organizing a grass roots lobbying effort that shaped public policy in Ohio by extending the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault victims with 150 other Ohioans, including Tiffin University’s own Dr. Victor. To see so many Ohioans and others from around the country come together with the same goal: to protect kids, was incredible.

What effect has TU had on your career?
My time as a graduate student at Tiffin University, amongst so many working professionals and instructors from such varied backgrounds greatly shaped and added to my classroom experiences. It was like “Stone Soup,” whereby everyone contributed significantly. The instruction I received at Tiffin, was unequaled. The Professors pushed us all to think critically and challenged us in ways I had not previously considered. Almost without exception, everything I’ve accomplished since my time at TU, can directly be traced back to my time as a master’s student in the criminal justice (FP), graduate program here. I can’t imagine my life without that formative education.

Almost without exception, everything I’ve accomplished since my time at TU, can directly be traced back to my time as a master’s student in the criminal justice (FP), graduate program here. I can’t imagine my life without that formative education.

What does it mean to come back to campus?
It’s extremely humbling. I hope to pay it forward in some small way. Tiffin University had a profound impact on my life. I remain grateful for the time I was here. I can’t get over how much growth and change continues to take place here. Tiffin University is such a change agent.

What would you tell a prospective student?
Be an unapologetic self-mandated reporter and advocate for change. Ask for help and stay in school! There is no problem so big that you can’t figure it out with the help of others and Tiffin University has a wealth of resources and people that want you to succeed. You don’t have to have all the answers or your life figured out, you only have to be willing to lean in and try. Finally, get your master’s degree! You won’t regret it. Your education is something that no one can ever take from you.

Who is one person that has had a significant impact on your life? Why?
There are many, but what binds them all together is my dad. He was a gentle compass for my dreams. He was my biggest cheerleader, my greatest critic and above all, he believed in me.  My dad was the biggest gift in my life.

Who is one person that has had a significant impact on your career? Why?
This are also many, many here. But undeniably Barbara Blaine, who founded SNAP has had a profound and tremendous impact on me as an advocate. Barbara Blaine was able to see early on past my self-imposed limitations, critical self-doubt and perceived weaknesses. Barbara as a strong, unapologetic advocate, pushed me farther than I ever thought I could go and believed in me enough to sustain me when I did not. I am forever indebted to her for the generosity of her time, expertise, good counsel and unconventional wisdom. I aspire to have 1/10 of her grit and tenacity in my lifetime.

What’s your favorite color?
Close call – I love the jewel tones, but red narrowly wins out, over deep purple.

What do you like to do for fun?
I am THAT doting aunt to Rebekah, Noah, Jonah and Elijah. I love spending time with family. I love Latin dancing (salsa, meringue, bachata), anything outdoors: gardening, canoeing, cycling, the parks, etc.

What’s on your bookshelf?
I love to read. I’ve had a library card since I was in the first grade! I can better narrow it down to authors: anything by Gloria Steinem, Brene Brown, Iyanla VanZant, Patricia Williams, Maya Angelo, Cheryl Strayed, Don Miguel Ruiz, Shel Silverstein, etc. As of late, there are three recent ties: “Legacies of Crime” by Dr. Peggy Giordano, “Hunger a Memoir of my Body” by Roxanne Gay and “The Girls That Went Away” by Ann Fessler. Notably, Dr. Giordano and Ann Fessler both are from Northwest Ohio.

What’s your favorite movie?
Wizard of Oz. Why? Because at the end of the day, Dorothy, like many of us has to reconcile that that she had everything within (courage, wisdom and brains).

The magic wasn’t the ruby slippers, although they are as timeless, as they are fabulous.  Dorothy, just like all of us, just needed to believe in herself.


Learn about our Criminal Justice Programs:

Master of Science in Criminal Justice

Bachelor of Criminal Justice