KSU graduate overcomes obstacles to pursue dream of becoming a cop

Miaja Jefferson,  former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, poses for a portrait on Thursday,  December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University.  She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Miaja Jefferson, former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, poses for a portrait on Thursday, December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University. She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Since she was a child, Miaja Jefferson wanted to work in law enforcement to help people.

Life-changing events threatened to take her off the path towards success, but she didn’t lose sight of her dream and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University.

Part of Jefferson’s studies in KSU’s criminal justice program include interning with the Smyrna Police Department where she learned what it takes to become an officer. As an intern, she was allowed to participate in ride-alongs with patrol officers, work in the city’s jail, partner with detectives assigned to various cases, learn about the city’s Emergency Communications Center and how the department engages with the community.

“It was a really good experience,” Jefferson said.

Sgt. Louis Defense, a Smyrna police spokesman responsible for the agency’s community relations, said interns are also given the chance to reinvestigate a closed homicide case from 2007 to see if they can solve the crime. This includes taking them to the scene of the killing and allowing the interns to act in the role of responding officers and detectives. On average, he said it takes interns about 4 to 6 weeks to solve the case.

(Left to right) Sgt. Louis Defense, public information officer for the Smyrna Police Department, Miaja Jefferson, former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, Capt. Robert Harvey, interim chief of police of the Smyrna Police Department, and Officer Taylor Elliot, police officer with the Smyrna Police Department, pose for a portrait on Thursday,  December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University.  She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
(Left to right) Sgt. Louis Defense, public information officer for the Smyrna Police Department, Miaja Jefferson, former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, Capt. Robert Harvey, interim chief of police of the Smyrna Police Department, and Officer Taylor Elliot, police officer with the Smyrna Police Department, pose for a portrait on Thursday, December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University. She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

“The whole goal of that process is to show them from a foundational standpoint they need to learn how to be a police officer before they can be an investigator,” he said.

Jefferson’s path to college graduate wasn’t easy. In the summer before starting her 10th grade year at Pebblebrook High School in Cobb County, she became pregnant and went into the foster care system. Undeterred, Jefferson continued to make A’s and B’s and graduated in 2013 from Pebblebrook.

She knew she wanted to attend college and get a degree in criminal justice, so she enrolled Chattahoochee Technical College. She also participated in the Year Up program, which provides students with an opportunity to gain experience working in the corporate world. Jefferson, 26, said the program allowed her to work in the Information Technology field, which helped her pay for college and take care of her daughter.

(Left to right) Sgt. Louis Defense, public information officer for the Smyrna Police Department, Miaja Jefferson, former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, and Officer Taylor Elliot, police officer with the Smyrna Police Department, pose for a portrait on Thursday,  December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University.  She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
(Left to right) Sgt. Louis Defense, public information officer for the Smyrna Police Department, Miaja Jefferson, former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, and Officer Taylor Elliot, police officer with the Smyrna Police Department, pose for a portrait on Thursday, December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University. She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

She was able to transfer credits from that program to Kennesaw State where she enrolled in 2016. Being a full-time student while raising a daughter was a challenge. She worked two full-time jobs while taking her courses, most of which were online. She would sleep and see her daughter around her jam-packed schedule. Fortunately, she had a great relationship with her foster mother, who was able to help look after Jefferson’s daughter.

“It was really hard juggling my daughter, those jobs and school,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to let my daughter grow up the way I did.”

Jefferson eventually quit one of her jobs to spend more time with her daughter, who would on occasion accompany her mother to class and work.

About 25 people have interned with Smyrna police since the program began about six years ago and roughly half now work in law enforcement, including with Smyrna police, said Defense, who added he’s impressed with Jefferson’s ability to overcome obstacles to stay on her career path.

Miaja Jefferson,  former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, poses for a portrait on Thursday,  December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University.  She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Miaja Jefferson, former intern with the Smyrna Police Department, poses for a portrait on Thursday, December 17, 2020, at the Smyrna Police Department headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia. Jefferson overcame the personal challenges of having a child and being in fostercare as a teenager to earn her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kennesaw State University. She is in the process of applying to be a Cobb County police officer and hopes to eventually become an FBI agent. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

“Miaja is so full of energy and positivity that I’m certain that whatever she puts her mind to, she’s going to be able to accomplish it,” he said.

Jefferson recently purchased a home in Clayton County with her boyfriend. She’s submitted an application with the Cobb County Police Department. Her ultimate goal is to become an FBI agent.

Jefferson said she is thankful for the support her foster parents, the Division of Family and Children Services and others who have kept her on the right path over the years. She said she hopes other teenage parents, homeless youth and young adults can draw inspiration from her story.

“Do not let the past dictate your future,” she said.

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