Student Spotlight: Debbie Wallen

Criminal Justice major named to ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s 2024 Student Voting Honor Roll

Debbie Wallen made the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s 2024 Student Voting Honor Roll for their efforts on voter registration, education, and turnout during the 2023 elections, which featured critical ballot measures and local and state races.

ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge recognizes 137 student leaders for their commitment to nonpartisan democratic engagement and their contributions to their local communities.

“I’m honored to be recognized as a voting champion on @ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s 2024 Student Voting Honor Roll 🏆 for my work at Inver Hills Community College,” Debbie said. “Help me celebrate by taking a moment to register to vote at

Studies show that voting and democratic participation are habits that are built and strengthened over time. A recent survey from CIRCLE showed that 86 percent of under-35 youth who voted in 2022 and 72 percent of those who voted in 2020 consider themselves extremely likely to vote in 2024. Colleges and universities have an important role to play in encouraging their students to become active and engaged citizens at the ballot box and beyond.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge empowers colleges and universities to achieve excellence in nonpartisan student democratic engagement. With the support of the ALL IN staff, campuses that join the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge complete a set of action items to institutionalize nonpartisan civic learning, political engagement and voter participation on their campus. The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge engages more than 1,000 institutions enrolling over 10 million students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


The following spotlight story was originally published December 12, 2023.

Criminal Justice major serves as Student Senate president

Debbie Wallen

Debbie Wallen, 23, is earning a Criminal Justice Transfer Pathway A.S. at Inver Hills Community College. Debbie is looking forward to graduating from Inver Hills at the end of spring semester 2024.

“I plan to transfer to MSU Mankato next fall,” they said. “I’m focusing my career plans on getting into legislative work and criminal justice reform that will benefit minority groups and those who are sworn to protect them.”

Debbie is a remarkably engaged student at Inver Hills. They serve as president of the Student Senate and as a chapter officer in Beta Sigma Omega Lambda (BSOL), the Criminal Justice student club at the college. They belong to the LGBT+ Club and participate in TRIO Student Support Services.

In keeping with their commitment to helping others, Debbie holds three healthcare-related certificates, Youth Mental Health First Aid USA, Wilderness First Aid/Epinephrine Auto-Injector, and Adult Mental Health First Aid USA. During the summer of 2022, they worked full-time as a summer youth corps leader for the Conservation Corps–Minnesota & Iowa.

Faculty perspective: Amy Zsohar, PhD

Amy Zsohar

“Debbie is more than a student, Debbie is a student leader. Debbie is constantly working to find ways to use their influence to improve the places where Debbie is. For example, Debbie is a leader in the classroom. They make sure that colleagues feel seen and heard. They aren’t afraid to be a voice in the classroom so others feel they can speak up.

“They are also the president of Student Senate and are working to make Inver Hills a more inclusive space. Debbie is willing to be the voice to speak up for change. Debbie is always willing to try to educate others on how to be more inclusive, respectful, kind, and thoughtful. They are constantly showing others how to advocate for themselves. Their natural leadership and desire for social justice are an exemplar of what student leadership should be.”

Amy Zsohar, PhD
Communications Studies Faculty
LGBT+ Club Faculty Advisor

Inver Hills Community College

Staff perspective: Kimberly Swinney

Kimberly Swinney

“Debbie is a kind, compassionate, and thoughtful leader, all qualities we hope to see in the student representing their peers as student senate president. They are intentional about creating safe and welcoming spaces for students, advocating for positive change, and consistently check in on the well-being and mental health of their teammates and others.

“Debbie takes advantage of every opportunity to grow, learn, and challenge themselves in new ways. I am proud of all that they have accomplished and look forward to seeing the impact they make across campus this year.”

Kimberly Swinney
Student Life Director
Inver Hills Community College

Life at Inver Hills

While attending Inver Hills, Debbie works up to 20 hours a week as a community-based learning (CBL) assistant. Their duties include driving student involvement via civic action and advocacy initiatives, training student ambassadors, and making sure students are aware of college resources, including the on-campus Food and Resource Center.

Duties central to Debbie’s role as president of the college’s Student Senate include running all meetings by parliamentary procedure by way of Robert’s Rules of Order.

“I need to demonstrate knowledge of the Student Senate constitution and by-laws,” they explained. “I abstain from providing official votes except in the instance of a tie. I also represent the Student Senate on the Student Life Budget Committee and serve as an active student member on the College Foundation Board, where I advocate for student concerns and needs.”

First pitch at Saints game…

Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College teamed up for a Minnesota State College Game Night with the St. Paul Saints Wednesday afternoon, June 28, 2023, at CHS Field in St. Paul.

The Saints played the Gwinnett Stripers and won the game 12–9 when Saints catcher, Jair Camargo, smacked a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

Debbie Wallen volunteered to throw the game’s first pitch in front of 6,500 fans. They completed the task without a hitch.

“When I walked down to the area waiting to go out on the field, it was cool to see the background, and everyone was nice,” they said. “When I was on the pitcher’s mound—well technically I was in front of it—I was kind of nervous, but listening to the speaker to make sure I didn’t throw the ball early ?.

“I was originally worried that I couldn’t throw the ball far enough, because I haven’t in a while, but John Guetter [Inver Hills student life activities coordinator] helped me practice,” Debbie added, “and it helped me feel a lot more confident for when I threw the first pitch.”

Saints game gallery

More about Debbie…

Debbie Wallen

Originally from Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, Debbie graduated from Centennial High School, Class of 2018. Debbie’s mom, Dani, is a dining room supervisor at Lodge of the Lake in Stillwater; their dad, Benjamin, works at Thrivent Financial as a maintenance technician. Debbie’s brother, Nick, 27, works full-time at the Marathon gas station in Maplewood.

“Nick loves his job there,” Debbie said. “He greets customers, stocks items, and cleans things when needed. His favorite thing to do is stocking pop in the cooler. He’s been working there for the past couple years.”

Debbie’s sister, Kylie, 21, works full-time plus overtime as a personal medical aide. She has two years of college under her belt from UMD Duluth and is transferring to Bethel University in spring 2024 to get her biology degree before continuing her studies to become a doctor.

“I have three dogs,” Debbie added. “Josie, 3, is a brown Lab, Zeus, 6, is a mutt, and Lucy, 12, is a pug/Chihuahua mix. I also have a 17-year-old cat named Coco.”

In high school, Debbie was very active in theater, marching band, and robotics. They enjoy ceramics, crocheting, reading, and camping when they’re not studying, advocating for students, or working.

Debbie resides in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.

Debbie Wallen life gallery

Debbie Wallen Q & A

Debbie Wallen
What do you find most interesting about the Criminal Justice program?

What I found most interesting about Inver’s Criminal Justice program is that we have faculty who are active law enforcement officers teaching classes, and it’s awesome to learn from them, get their perspective on things, and have beneficial discussions with them.

What inspires you to pursue justice reform policy work as your career focus?

I have always wanted to have a career where I can help others—and I learned that criminal justice is just that, especially after taking the Peace Officer and Community course at Inver. I learned more about current policies, and yes, we’ve made progress, but there is always room for improvement to make sure we are helping the community we are sworn to protect, especially our marginalized communities.

Also, I like the idea of working on policies that help reduce recidivism and helping offenders currently incarcerated get the support they need.

What are the most rewarding and challenging elements of your role as Student Senate president?

The most rewarding element is gaining experience as a leader, but also helping my exec, senators, and other students gain their leadership skills.

I would say the most challenging elements of my role are learning how to be president of a club, continuing to grow my team-building skills, and delegating tasks among my exec and senators. Communication is very important.

Also, a main challenge is being assertive and leading the Student Senate toward progress. I am a quiet speaker, so I am working on speaking up.

Three words that describe you as a college student:

How can students become stronger, more effective advocates for their chosen cause or policy?

Being part of the Student Senate is an amazing start because we partner with LeadMN, which helped us create the North Star program. Also, we have a Student Senate Advocacy Committee, where you as a student can bring up a chosen cause/policy to work on, whether it’s on campus or in the community.

By serving on the Student Senate, you can attend conferences to learn about how to become an effective advocate.

What advice would you give students thinking about getting involved in student clubs and organizations on campus?

I advise every student to be in at least one student club or organization on campus because not only can you grow your community, but also it’s also good for many things, like networking, resume building, leadership, etc. Being active in your college community is very beneficial for you as a student, and it will help you grow.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

Dr. Amy Zsohar because she has been an amazing advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially for the trans/non-binary community, by getting us gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms.

For the community at Inver, Dr. Z also got us the Prism Center of Gender and Sexuality and is a faculty advisor on the LGBT+ Club on campus. Dr. Z has helped me and many others in many ways. She helped me connect and network with other’s who are prominent in the LGBT+ community, specifically those who do legislative work. Dr. Z has been an amazing advocate on campus, and I hope to follow in her footsteps.

If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?

To have the LGBTQIA+ community be able to be safe from anyone on Earth, with no transphobia or homophobia, to be able to get married to anyone and have the same rights as others, especially in the form of healthcare.

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:


Debbie Wallen 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Stretching or hiking
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Salem, Massachusetts, or Norway
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Through the Conservation Corps, I was able to travel all over Minnesota visiting state parks
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Pay off college loans 2) Buy a new car (my car is currently okay, but possibly also it’s a 2007 Pontiac, so it could go out, but I plan to keep it until it gets to the point, where it stops working or is unsafe to drive 3) Donate money to LGBT+ organizations
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Barbie
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: In 1969–1970, a lot of LGBT+ protests and organizations formed; it still wasn’t safe for people in the LGBT+ community, but I would love to meet the people who were at Stonewall, and those who created organizations that helped our community
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: Travel all over the world
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Crow
  9. Dream occupation: Director of the Office of Criminal Justice Reform
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: The skill I would like to learn and master is public speaking
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind:Climate change has already caused a lot of damage to the Earth, but there are still ways to prevent it from increasing as fast as it is if we can make faster progress on initiatives to mitigate the causes of global warming
Learn more about the Criminal Justice program at Inver Hills by contacting:

Inver Hills Community College
Virtual Visit

More about the Criminal Justice program

The Criminal Justice department at Inver Hills provides distinct pathways to careers in corrections, peace officer, police officer, or policing.

Program coursework is designed to prepare you for a rewarding career in a number of criminal justice fields, including security, policing, courts, corrections, rehabilitation, crime prevention, and victim advocacy.


Criminal Justice Transfer Pathway A.S.: 60 credits
Corrections certificate: 16 credits

Criminal Justice Program Planning Guide

Why study Criminal Justice at Inver Hills?

Explore a wide range of career options.
Completing this Transfer Pathway A.S. gives you a clear direction into corrections, including positions as a corrections officer, correctional treatment specialist, or juvenile probation counselor to name a few. You can also go into peace officer, police officer, or policing and land a job as a deputy sheriff, federal air marshal, DEA agent, and crime scene investigator for starters.

Crime never takes a day off.
Job stability is a major feature in the corrections and peace officer, police officer, or policing fields. Peace officer, police officer, or policing and corrections personnel are on the job 24/7, 365 days a year. Also, public sector employees—the bulk of hires in this sector—are not as easily affected by ups and downs in the economy.

Plenty of room for professional development.
Opportunities to grow both personally and professionally abound in both peace officer, police officer, or policing and corrections. Your career at any level—local, regional, state, and national—will only be limited by your drive to learn and quest to make a difference.

Say goodbye to a humdrum work life.
Are you put off by the notion of a lackluster occupation? Are you looking for challenges and the adrenaline surge of meaningful, dynamic work? Are you ready to solve problems in time-crunched, high-stakes situations? Criminal justice could be your ideal career choice.

Protect and serve is more than a motto.
At its heart, the criminal justice system is about keeping people safe. As a peace officer, police officer, policing or corrections professional, you will make it your life’s work to assist and defend others in consequential, constructive ways.

Help turn lives around.
Studying to become a corrections officer will give you the skill set to make a difference in a correctional facility as you work alongside certified corrections and peace officer, police officer, or policing professionals.

You know how to think ahead.
Solid benefit plans are important. Working in the criminal justice public sector means you’ll be in good shape regarding health insurance and a retirement system. You will also receive paid sick leave, paid holidays, life insurance, and assistance with training and tuition—the latter benefit frequently a vital component for professional development.

Justice must work for everyone.
A career in criminal justice offers you the chance to serve your community, keep citizens safe, and change lives for the better.

Career Opportunities

The criminal justice field offers an amazing number of rewarding career paths. You can follow your dream to become a peace officer, attorney, criminal psychologist, U.S. marshal, human rights advocate, corrections professional, and the list goes on.

Studying criminal justice broadens your professional horizons. You’ll learn about the history of our legal system, how government works, federal, state, and local peace officer, police officer, or policing agencies, the psychology of criminal behavior, the workings of society, victim advocacy, and so much more.


Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

Maintain order and protect lives and property by enforcing laws.


This career that pays above the statewide median of $24.25/hour


Median: $33.06/hour
High: $42.48/hour

Seven-county Twin Cities metro

Median: $42.00/hour
High: $48.30/hour


In Minnesota, there are 9,020 workers employed in this medium-sized career, which is in high demand and seeing high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate in the U.S. is 7.2 percent.

There will be a need for about 9,114 new Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers to meet market demand between 2020-2030. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.

SOURCE: Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (December 12, 2023)

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