State Police commander earns degree 30 years after withdrawing from college

Susan Burlingame
December 17, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Capt. Joseph Sokolofski had just turned 21 when he joined the Pennsylvania State Police some 29 years ago. Like most new troopers, he was “on the road” for the first six years, followed by a series of new assignments and promotions. He worked as an undercover officer to combat organized crime. He served as a criminal investigator, crime section commander, captain of a drug law enforcement division, and more before landing his current position as commanding officer for Troop M in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Sokolofski attended three different colleges for a short time after he graduated from high school, but plans changed after he was accepted into the State Police Academy. He never returned to college and never earned his bachelor’s degree — until now.

Sokolofski

Captain Joseph Sokolofski, flanked by his daughters, Sylvia (left) and Sarah, earned his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership through Penn State World Campus.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Joe Sokolofski

Sokolofski is a December 2020 Penn State graduate, earning a bachelor of arts degree in organizational leadership — a College of the Liberal Arts program offered through Penn State World Campus.

“I was always determined to finish college and achieve my bachelor’s degree,” said Sokolofski. “I just wasn’t ready for college back then, and computer science was the wrong major for me.”

While considering his next career move a few years ago, however, Sokolofski realized that a bachelor’s degree was required for most of the positions he would be interested in, be it a position as chief of a local police department or a leadership position with a security company.

Sokolofski had two additional reasons for wanting to finish his college education: his daughters, Sylvia and Sarah.

“It was important to me that I teach them to finish what you start and to show them that it’s never too late,” he said.

The girls were eight and four years old when Sokolofski, now 50, started taking classes through World Campus in 2014. He chose World Campus, he said, because it had the right degree program, because he could progress at his own pace considering he had two young daughters and a full time job, and because: “Let’s face it. A degree from Penn State holds more clout.”

During his seven-year journey, Sokolofski said working toward his degree at Penn State was a “juggling act” about which he has no regrets. The majority of his classes were asynchronous, so he could attend them at his convenience. He did most of his classwork on Friday nights and on the weekends, taking Mondays and Tuesdays off before diving into the reading on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He also took a few in-person classes at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

Though most of his classes were online, Sokolofski said he always felt well supported by his adviser and by his professors.

“If you look at how many credits it takes and how long it will take you, it can be intimidating, but my adviser was there every step of the way,” Sokolofski said. When asked what advice he would share with other World Campus students, he said: “Take it one semester, one class, at a time. With patience and discipline, you’ll get there.” 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 17, 2020