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Phoenix Forward magazine

Security chief faces fear and earns college degree

Jason Hudson

Jason Hudson built a career on grit and courage. He served as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force. He joined the protection details for celebrities and world leaders. And then he worked his way up to become director of security and safety at the Santa Fe Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

But for years, one challenge intimidated him: getting a college degree. Despite his professional achievements, Hudson doubted whether he could succeed academically. But when he was looking to move on in his career, he decided to take the plunge and further his education.

In 2008, Hudson enrolled in the criminal justice administration program at the University of Phoenix Las Vegas Campus. His view of higher education quickly transformed.

“I was scared to death when I went to my first class,” Hudson admits. He hadn’t enjoyed high school and, after 20 years away from the classroom, he found it hard to return.

But he discovered a group of supportive fellow students. Their team spirit reminded him of the military’s camaraderie. “My classmates and I were all in this together, focused on the same goal,” he says. Once on the way to his degree, he surprised himself by looking forward to class.

He also appreciated that his instructors were professionals in the criminal justice field, ranging from lawyers to police officers. Among them: Hudson’s former casino security colleague Tommy Burns.

Every class I took gave me a nugget of information I’ve used in my job.

“When we worked together, [Burns] talked about the importance of education,” Hudson recalls. “As it turned out, he became … a great teacher and mentor.”

The faculty demonstrated how coursework could apply to real-world situations, something Hudson used to his advantage. Since he was taking classes while working as security director, he field-tested new ideas on the job.

For instance, Hudson credits his communication class for helping him better handle intoxicated or agitated casino guests. “The easiest approach is to be casual yet cautious,” he explains. He learned how to “speak to them in an empathetic tone” and avoid taking an aggressive stance.

“If they start yelling, [I] respond to them in a quieter voice, almost in a whisper,” he notes. “This forces them to calm down and focus on what you are saying.” Then, he says, once the patrons have decided to leave, he makes sure they’re OK and lets them walk away.

His public speaking course, meanwhile, helped him learn how to feel comfortable leading a monthly training session for his fellow casino security officers. “It gave me confidence in front of the classroom,” Hudson says. “Every class I took gave me a nugget of information I’ve used in my job.”

In 2010, he graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. Now he encourages other security directors to consider going back to school, much as Burns counseled him.

“I waited so long to go to school, and the outcome was worth it,” Hudson says. “Now I know I can do anything. It built a lot of self-confidence."

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