On both sides of the law

About 20 years ago you could find Dave Agresti working at a factory loading freight onto trains. At that point in his life, he had just flunked out of college and had been in trouble with the law a few times.

But after joining the Air Force, Agresti went back to college, eventually earning a doctorate degree, and has been dedicated to education ever since.

“I became a juvenile delinquent … I believe I have a perspective on crime, its causes and its actions different than what you would find in textbooks,” Agresti said. “Besides, I don’t steal anymore.”

Agresti, who left USF after 15 years as a full-time faculty member, recently returned to the university as an adjunct professor to instruct Crime and Justice in America. After taking a leave of absence from USF to work as an administrator of corrections, he got a call from USF asking him to return, and he accepted.

Though he instructs college courses, taking them wasn’t always simple.

“After one year, the Syracuse University professors in chemical engineering flunked me out, as I wasn’t ready for that level of academic work,” Agresti said. “I became a manual labor worker in a factory loading 100-pound bags of rock salt onto railroad cars. I guess you can say that I did end up working with chemicals, but in a physical, not mental, way.”

In 1963, Agresti joined the Air Force and was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

“I (was a) flight simulator specialist for the F4-C Phantom jet during the Vietnam War,” he said.

During this time, Agresti earned a bachelor of arts in sociology and psychology at the University of Tampa.

“After getting my B.A., I became a probation officer for the Juvenile Court in Tampa,” he said.

Soon after, Agresti received his master’s degree in social work at Florida State University.

Agresti said he pursued his career, opening his first urban-based delinquent’s house for boys in Tampa. He then became a correctional administrator for the Division of Youth Service and later got his Ph.D. at USF.

“In 1988 I left the university to return to the ‘real world,’ and became a corporate director of inmate services for PRIDE (Florida’s prison industry),” Agresti said.

“I left that job and returned to the state working as the superintendent of the Juvenile Detention Center in Tampa. Then I took on the duty of developing a supervision program for the juvenile sexual offenders in Hillsborough County and then (took on the duty of) supervisor of the special projects and court unit for the Department of Juvenile Justice until 2000,” Agresti said.

After all of his criminological experiences, he returned to USF to teach what he has experienced. A typical class usually involves demonstrations from the SWAT team or lectures from Drug Enforcement Agency representatives.

Kyle Ayers, one of Agresti’s students, said the class is informative even for non-criminology majors.

“It’s odd because I am not majoring in criminology, and this class is eye-opening to the realities of the world,” Ayers said.

Agresti’s peers also have good things to say about him.

“He is a very gregarious, extroverted, fun, joyful professor. Teaching — he is very good at teaching,” said John Cochran, a USF professor.

But behind the expertise and experience lies a hidden talent: trivia.

“My sons and I have a board game that we are working on that I hope will be better than Trivial Pursuit, but that’s down the road,” Agresti said. “Professor Puzzle is my nickname, and I enjoy challenging people with information that’s not academic to see if they know what they learned.”