Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship Awardees


Debbie Regan

I am currently a junior at Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice. My journey up to this point is different. I am a “non-traditional” student and was briefly enrolled in college in the late 90’s but was unable to complete a degree at that time due to circumstances at home. In the interim, life happened: I got married, found a career and raised a family. I have worked in the legal field for 27+ years and love what I do. However, it was always my dream to return to school to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree.  My children are now grown, and my youngest son just graduated from college this past May. My kids and their beautiful minds were (and continue to be) my main inspiration to return to school. They have grown into amazing human beings who motivate me every day to be better and to do better.  

I decided to go back to college in the Fall of 2020 (during the pandemic) to pursue my dream of a law degree. I enrolled at Bergen Community College. I was invited to join PTK and was sworn in as a member in 2022.  I became actively involved in Bergen’s PTK chapter, serving as General Vice President for the 2022-2023 school year. PTK afforded me so many incredible opportunities. I was able to network with other students at Bergen, as well as other colleges across the region. I was also provided the opportunity to attend both the Middle States convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Catalyst convention in Colombus, Ohio as a representative of Bergen. I was awarded PTK’s 2023 International Distinguished Officer Team Award, 2023 Regional Most Distinguished Chapter Officer Team Award, and 2023 Outstanding Leadership Award. I was also one of four international co-winners of the 2023 Honors Case Studies Challenge.  I graduated from Bergen this past May with two Honors Associates Degrees: one in Legal Studies and one in General Professional Studies. 

Receiving the PTK scholarship from Rutgers has been nothing short of amazing and has given me the ability to continue pursuing my education and obtain my Bachelor’s Degree – a dream I never thought possible! As a working parent like many of us, the stress of financial obligations can become all encompassing.  The generosity of PTK has given me the ability to focus more on my education, to have time to give back to the community, and to provide for my family.  As stated above, I work in the legal field every day. I love the law and it is my ultimate goal to attend law school, take this to the next level, and have the chance to give back. I am so grateful for the opportunity this scholarship has provided me with. I am living proof that no matter your age, it is never too late to follow your dreams!  .


Lanae Ali

My college experience started in Fall 2018 at Middlesex County College where I majored in Criminal Justice – Correction Administration. I graduated during Winter 2020. One of the struggles I dealt with the majority of my life prior to my start at community college revolved around this concept of identity. I grew up in a predominantly white town and my identity very often was tied to the identities of those around me. My sense of individuality, therefore, was lost by the time I reached fifth grade; no longer did I find comfort in being me. In fact, I had learned to hate the most beautiful parts about me, to the point where I learned how to robotically move through the education system until graduating high school. This robotic movement made me realize upon graduating that I never got the chance to learn or embrace myself because I focused too much on becoming who others wanted me to be. Because of this, I made the conscious decision to take a gap year after graduating high school in 2017. I used the gap year as an opportunity to learn more about myself, be comfortable in who I was, and save up for college; this is a choice I will never regret though it was difficult for me to accept embrace as it was occurring.

During my time at Middlesex County College, for the first time I unapologetically embraced my true identity; never had I felt so free. This allowed me to refocus, knowing now that my end goal was to transfer to a four-year institution. Now, I am a Rutgers student majoring in Criminal Justice, with a concentration in social justice, being that I am a part of the Honors Living Learning Community; this is a program geared towards social justice and being a change agent. I am also a member of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network, an empowering women’s program where women are encouraged to network and have opportunities to work on their career development, both during and after their college years. Furthermore, I am working to help make a difference in the lives of those who are both looking into college, since I work in the Admissions Office, and those looking for resources on campus, being that I am also an intern at the Career Development Center.

As a student who has embarked on a more non-traditional route than most other students, with taking a gap year, attending community college, and being a first-generation college student, I can say with confidence that Phi Theta Kappa has allowed me to continue my education without the stress of financial obligations constantly plaguing my thoughts, has provided me with a plethora of chances to engage with the community at large, and has afforded me the opportunity to obtain the higher education I would constantly dream of as a little girl. Had it not been for the generous contributions to Phi Theta Kappa, I would not be where I am today; I am that little girl’s wildest dreams.

We never truly understand how the things we do affect other people. However, I do hope you did take away from this that the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship and donations to it have made an immeasurable imprint on my life. I will forever remember your kindness and generosity.


Joseph Detoro

Hello, I am 24 years old and a senior at Rutgers School of Criminal Justice. Receiving the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship from SCJ was an incredible honor that I am extremely grateful for. I realize the limited availability of grants and scholarships and know I do deserve to be here. This award means so much to me as it has given me the opportunity to further my education towards a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. I would like to share my story so far along and what led me to where I am today. I graduated high school back in 2015 but due to unforeseen circumstances, I was financially unable to attend college, and the thought of going nearly felt out of reach after each semester passed by.

During this time I was working full time saving money until 2 years later I made the decision that I wanted to go back to school. In 2019 I graduated from Middlesex County College, where I became a member of Phi Theta Kappa, with an Associates degree in Criminal Justice with a 4.0 GPA all while working full time to help fund my degree and a full-time student attending class 5 nights a week. It was incredible I was able to get that far on my own and have learned so much however, I wanted to further my knowledge to become a better person within law enforcement so I have applied to Rutgers. Upon receiving an award like this from such a prestigious school of Rutgers University it was no question that this was the perfect school for me to attend.

While at Rutgers I had the chance to learn from some of the best professors who have incredible achievements and works of their own, truly gaining a quality education in the field of criminal justice each teaching a unique lesson that has shaped me into a greater individual. Currently, I am finishing up my final courses here at Rutgers with a 3.97 GPA; it has been a wonderful experience and I am proud to say that I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college. I have been working with the same company since high school while also running the management end of my own small business for two years now and still being a full-time student.

As you can see without a doubt I feel I am a hardworking individual who never gives up and am thankful that the Phi Theta Kappa award has given me the chance to accomplish this much. For my future, after graduating from Rutgers I am working on joining the New Jersey State Police where I have been learning from current officers and am hopeful I can use my knowledge gained at Rutgers to be a role model within law enforcement as someone who is able to show compassion while dealing with the various stressful situations and who wants to serve all members of the community in an honest and transparent manner. So while it is obvious that without this award I would have never been able to reach where I am today, I would also like to say with hard work anything can be achieved if you want it bad enough and I am so glad I had the opportunity to share my personal experience and hope it can help another student struggling, it can be done there are 24 hours in a day don’t let them go to waste if you truly want to reach your dreams.