Josue Cruz walked the halls of Holyoke Community College for years as a student. Now he walks the campus as the newest member of the HCC police.
"A lot of people have seen me," said Cruz, 24, who graduated from HCC in December 2011 with a degree in criminal justice. "Now they see me in uniform. It's kind of weird, but I'm adjusting to it."
Cruz was offered the job in March after a series of "nerve-wracking interviews," he said, prevailing over some 80 other applicants for the job. He may have had a leg up, though, given he had already been working with the department for months as a student cadet through the HCC Cooperative Education Program.
"Co-op," as it is known for short, is HCC's internship program. It provides students with opportunities to gain experience in their fields of study while earning college credits. The program places about 150 students each semester in internships, some paid, some not. The students also attend weekly seminars to develop better communication skills and learn how to be successful on the job.
Cruz applied for his co-op" for the Spring 2011 semester. He wanted to work for a police department. Working for the HCC campus police allowed him to arrange his work schedule around his classes. He came highly recommended from his teachers in the criminal justice department.
By all accounts, Cruz excelled as a cadet. "He took advantage of every opportunity he could get and learned as much as he could," said Andrea Picard, the co-op coordinator. "Co-op gave him the confidence that he could do the job."
As a cadet, Cruz did wear a uniform, though not the same one as the regular officers. His main responsibility was observation.
"Every time they got a call, I always got out there to observe what they did and ask questions about it," he said, "but really they just had me go around and do my rounds and keep an eye on the campus and report back to them."
Cruz also had the opportunity to follow a defendant arrested on campus through the entire booking process at the Holyoke Police Department, from interview, through fingerprints and photographs to arraignment. "The officers were always great at explaining to me anything I needed to know about," he said.
He liked the job so much, he continued to work for the campus police as a volunteer after his co-op term expired, through the summer, fall and winter of 2011. "He was an extra pair of eyes out there for us," said HCC Officer Jacqueline Robles-Cruz, who runs the department's cadet program. "He was very helpful and very enthusiastic and it was good to have him."
Robles-Cruz, no relation, was so pleased with the cadet's performance, she told him to use her as a reference when he applied for the job. "He always showed his love for the job and that he wanted to do it as a profession," Robles-Cruz said.
Cruz isn't the first HCC graduate to be hired by the campus police. Also on the job are officers Richard H. Wheeler, '88; Elizabeth A. Greco, '89; Brian M. Burns, '85; Christopher T. Maher, '87; and Lizbeth Martinez, '01.
Familiarity with the campus certainly makes for an easier transition to a new job, according to Cruz. "I'm already aware of the things that go on here," he said. "I know my way around the school. I think it's a lot better that way. I think I'd be more stressed out if it was a new place."
For Cruz, a graduate of Northampton High School who now lives in Springfield, the past few months have been full of life-changing events. He got married in August, graduated in December, got a new job in March and will soon be a first-time father. Plus, he will soon be off for 15 weeks of basic training at the State Police Academy in Braintree, after which he will be sworn in as an officer with full powers or arrest.
"I think Josue is going to do great there," said Picard. "He paid attention and took advice and applied what he learned in the field and landed himself a job."
Photos: Campus Police Officer Josue Cruz on duty at HCC.