Western alum appreciates in class challenges

Western was not Lee Birk's first choice college. He originally went to Fort Lewis College, where he met his wife his freshman year. Shortly after getting married, the two moved to Gunnison where Mrs. Birk grew up.  It was a simple transfer, but Birk is thankful for it. As a double major in Political Science and Sociology, Birk earned the educational foundations he needed for his current career in the police force. 

He explained that it was the test taking strategies his professors used that allowed him to embrace critical thinking and proper communication skills. While most of his friends where attending large universities where standardized testing is the norm; Western was challenging Birk to write essays and take stances on big issues.  Birk said that some of his classes were treated like a supreme court. Professors would assign students an issue, the students would take a stance and write essays that clearly explain their thought process and why a court should lean in their favor. 

"(Professors) didn't care what your side was, it was about the logic that made you reach that decision," Birk said. "I thought that was such an effective way of teaching. It really made you think and was an excellent exercise in critical thinking.  I think I gained a lot from that (method)," he continued. "I learned proper communication skills, written and oral, and logical thinking. And that has benefited me most in my career." 

Birk is now the chief of police for the Westminster Police Department. As Chief of Police, Birk acts as a CEO of sorts. He handles management, leadership and administrative responsibilities. He started out as most officers do as a patrol officer. Through the years, Birk has worked his way up the ladder of the police force, and has now served as chief for nine years.   However, it wasn't a boyhood fantasy of being a tough policeman that drove Birk to the career. It was after he read Truman Capote's true crime book, In Cold Blood, that inspired him to get involved with law enforcement, explaining that he was captivated with the Kansas Bureau's investigation of the quadruple murder of the Herbert Clutter family in 1959.  He wanted to solve cases. He wanted to make a change.   "Law enforcement would be a chance to serve your community, make it a safer place, hold people accountable, protect the innocent."

Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 11:45am