A Passionate Career

Mark Haskins uses his degree in criminal justice to continue his prolific career in law enforcement

U.S. Navy veteran Mark Haskins is passionate about his work. For 20 years, he performed tirelessly as a narcotics investigator for New York State, and, starting in 2009, he began working in various capacities — now as a contract manager for external investigations — for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), particularly in its effort to battle fraud with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. His passion extends into other aspects of his life as well, from teaching and consulting, to writing and sharing his dedication to fighting the opioid crisis. Now, he hopes to inspire others through his storied career and endless desire for justice.

Haskins, of Miami Beach, Florida, joined the Navy after high school and was stationed at a nuclear facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for 2 years. When he had served his time in the military, he began studying criminal justice with his sights set on law school in Albany, New York, but wasn’t positive that it was what he wanted to do. Instead, he turned to law enforcement and joined the police department in East Greenbush, New York. Four years later, after spending time with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, Haskins moved to narcotics investigation with the New York State Department of Health.

Working in the world of narcotics is an eye-opening experience for many, and, for Haskins, it was just what he was looking for since he was interested in “white-collar crime” police work. During his time as a narcotics investigator, he participated in many big cases, including an international steroids and growth-hormone case centered out of Orlando, Florida. He also came face-to-face with the opioid crisis in America and has since remained impassioned about the subject. He recalls many stories from his time investigating narcotics and the toll that drug use takes on people and families: “A pharmacist In Brooklyn who I investigated ended up taking his own life for no reason … It’s tough whether somebody kills himself, whether somebody dies of an overdose, you know, it was just way too much death.”

Haskins also spent more than a year undercover as a doctor to discover medical professionals who were illegally prescribing medications. “Getting comfortable enough to speak the language and to go to dinner with three bad doctors and pull it off and getting them to write bad prescriptions— to me, that was the hallmark of my undercover experience,” he recalls. Now Haskins plans to publish a book about his time in narcotics. He hopes to share his experiences on the front lines as a narcotics investigator to shed light on America’s opioid problem.

By 2009, Haskins was ready for a career change, a new challenge. He worked in the private sector for several years before taking a job as a supervising investigator with the USDA. Soon, he decided that he was ready for bigger roles and decided to return to school for his master’s degree. He had already earned his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Excelsior College in 2012, and, since he liked Excelsior’s online format and nontraditional learning style, he decided to earn his master’s degree in criminal justice. “The one thing that I think Excelsior does is it opens that door. People look at Excelsior: They were a pioneer in online learning before most people knew it existed. And I still see it as the future right now,” Haskins says.

In 2013, Haskins was the first student to graduate from Excelsior’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice program. During graduation, he spoke to former president John Ebersole, who told Haskins he wasn’t too old to continue with his education and that learning was a lifelong experience. Haskins followed Ebersole’s advice and earned a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2019.

In his current role as a contract manager for external investigations, Haskins and his division oversee fraud investigations by retailers. “My investigators go out and try to identify retailers who are defrauding the system,” he says, describing that retailers will often offer money in exchange for SNAP debit cards; but the retailer will be the one making more money. Haskins says their main goal is to see that the people in need of SNAP are the ones who get the benefits and that criminals are prosecuted. “We make sure we get the bad people, but our ultimate goal is to feed the poor. And we can’t feed the poor if somebody’s stealing all our money,” he says.

Haskins believes his degree in criminal justice has helped in his career so far, particularly because at the graduate level, students begin to apply the knowledge they have learned and apply critical thinking to their work. “You really start understanding the whole purpose behind critical thinking … I think that will take you to any job, whether it’s law enforcement, science — whether you’re a doctor — you have to be able to think critically,” says Haskins.

Haskins maintains that his students are learning and absorbing as much knowledge as they can from him. He has always enjoyed lecturing and speaking in front of groups of people and so teaching college students has become no different. In his courses he teaches at Johnson and Wales University in Miami, Florida, Haskins spends the first 15 minutes of each class talking about current events. He likes to get his students thinking and talking, he says, adding, “ …If there’s no engagement, there’s no real learning.”

He also wants students to know that there is plenty of time to find the career they are passionate about. He believes there is too much pressure put on children and young adults to figure out what they want to be when they’re older.  In reality, there’s more than enough time to learn and grow. Education isn’t something that has a time limit, he says, and though he has had a long, successful career, he jokes with his students, saying, “Look, I’m two-and-a-half-times older than most of you, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”