By Mary Catherine Gaston
North Georgia native Erica Russell hopes to bring her law enforcement background to the university classroom one day
Erica Russell is not your typical PhD hopeful. Though the 28-year-old Blue Ridge native plans to put her doctorate in political science to use as a university professor, her path to the podium has been anything but ordinary.
When she arrived as a freshman on the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College campus in Tifton, she knew only that she eventually wanted to go to law school and that she didn’t want to leave Georgia.
“I wanted to go far enough away but close enough that I could get back home,” explains Russell.
ABAC fit the bill, being about as far as she could go from her home near the state’s northern border but conveniently situated within sight of Interstate 75.
While she excelled as a rural studies major at ABAC, her desire to one day be an attorney changed substantially as she completed internships with a Georgia Congressman and later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Her interest in the law became an interest in law enforcement, and that interest would lead her down a remarkable path.
The work she did as a student with the GBI was the stuff of television and movie scripts: crime labs, bomb squads, crime scene investigations, homicide processing. As she prepared to graduate from ABAC, she was offered a fulltime position as an undercover special agent with GBI’s narcotics task force. Later she worked as a sheriff’s department investigator while completing her master’s degree in criminal justice.
That’s when her desire to stay in Georgia took a turn as well. Russell is currently in her second year in the political science doctoral program at Louisiana State University, quite a change from north Georgia and from the gritty work she’s come to love since she was an ABAC undergrad. Once finished, she hopes to return to her home state to be a college professor and put her field experience to use helping train the next generation of lawmakers and law officers.
“I’d like to think that one day I’ll be able to offer more to students—because of my background—than the typical professor might,” she says. If anyone can do it, this atypical Millennial can.