Like most students, Todd Edler decided to pursue higher education to advance in his career—but his UA Grantham experience inspired so much more than that. Because of a research paper Edler wrote in one of his classes, he was able to secure a $1.7 million grant used to create positive change for at-risk youth in his community.
At the age of 49, wanting to get ahead professionally, Edler knew that earning a degree was key to moving up. “I would see everyone else getting promoted. They had that piece of paper, and I didn’t have it. I was seeing people with lesser experience getting promoted over me because I didn’t have the college degree,” said Edler.
But for Edler, earning a degree wasn’t as straightforward as enrolling at a local university and attending classes every day. Edler juggled a military career as a high-ranking official with a full-time civilian job as a senior corrections officer at Anamosa State Penitentiary. At home, he’s a father to four and he and his wife also care for foster kids. With so much on his plate, traditional schooling was out of the question.
Edler’s first military supervisor had completed a degree with UA Grantham years prior and raved about the military-friendly flexibility and 100 percent online format. Edler soon enrolled in UA Grantham’s Bachelor of Science in Multidisciplinary Studies online program, where his coursework seemed to validate the value of the experience he’d acquired through his extensive military and law enforcement careers.
“With multidisciplinary studies, a lot of my classes were elective-heavy, so I took a lot of leadership and management courses,” said Edler. “As a senior leader, I’d gone through 10 or 11 different leadership schools through the military. It was a lot of things I already knew—it was just that I didn’t have the college credit for it.”
Edler’s real-world experience acted as the ultimate study guide while he was in school, but that doesn’t mean his UA Grantham experience was redundant. His entire college path, in fact, was shaped by his passion for serving vulnerable youth in his community. Ultimately, that passion initiated improvements for those at-risk youth in his home state of Iowa.
“My wife and I are foster parents. Too often, we see drug-endangered kids whose parents have substance abuse problems. We see the impact of how drugs affect the community, homes and families. I want to do my part to reduce that,” said Edler.
When working on a research paper for one of his very first classes in 2016, Edler learned of the Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition. He became involved with the coalition and now serves on the executive board. In 2019, for his final project, Edler chose to focus his research on a diversion solution that would proactively keep at-risk young people from a trajectory of criminal activity. His research project would become the catalyst to forming and funding the program, which would be sponsored by the coalition he discovered years earlier.
“I was looking at a diversion program for low-risk, non-violent, first-time offenders. Instead of arresting them and sending them to jail, we need to send them to treatment. Iowa already has drug courts, but those address people after they’ve already been arrested, already in the system, already have a criminal record. I want to get to them before prison is the only option that’s left,” said Edler.
Iowa officials were aware of a federal grant that funded diversion programs similar to the kind Edler was studying, but they’d dismissed the possibility of receiving that grant due to stipulations about how the funds could be used. As he researched the feasibility of starting such a program, Edler made a key discovery about the grant: The language regarding how the grant money could be spent had changed.
“In the process of doing my paper, I stumbled across some changes in language to this federal grant—changes that would allow the state to apply for it,” said Edler. “I went through a Governor’s Office of Drug Control policy for the state of Iowa and I talked to the director, and it was actually a plan they were looking into. Because of my interest and the things that I found, they applied. They were awarded the grant worth $1,735,000. That was to start a pilot program in three different counties in the state of Iowa.”
Once the grant had been secured, Edler continued serving an active role in the project, working with his local police chief and committing to the long-term success of the program.
“I’m part of the steering committee for the coalition,” said Edler. “Our purpose is to figure out how we’re going to sustain the diversion program once we get going.”
Since graduating from UA Grantham in 2019, Edler’s career path has already changed. He now works in investigations at the penitentiary and is retiring from the military, which will allow him more time to work with the coalition.
“It takes a village to raise a child. That’s kind of the way our coalition is,” said Edler. “We can’t just rely on law enforcement. We also have to rely on substance abuse specialists, we have to rely on the courts. We need businesses, churches and schools involved. Everybody has to have a piece of that pie for us to make this work. We’ve got the coalition and we’ve got the steering committee. That way we can steer this in the right direction for the community.”
Edler sees lots of opportunity for positive change in Iowa and hopes his involvement can create a ripple effect, leading to stronger support for at-risk youth.
“Iowa is dead last on a lot of different things, like mental health training and dealing with mental health problems. A lot of people with substance abuse problems also have mental health problems, so it’s all a co-joined effort. I’m hoping by having this diversion program, we can reduce the number that become incarcerated. And if those people have mental health problems, we can identify it at an earlier stage—before they do something victim-involved and there’s no choice left but to send them to prison.”
Learn more about UA Grantham's online degree programs today.