Prosecutor’s Office Appeals to YSU Honors Students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A group of Youngstown State University honors students learned about the workings of the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office through a partnership between the university and the county office.

Mollie Hartup, director of the YSU Sokolov Honors College, approached Mahoning County Prosecutor Gina DeGenova about a partnership to provide an experiential learning experience for the students.

The students, who come from various disciplines across campus, are participating in Hartup’s magazine editing and production honors seminar.

Through the partnership with the prosecutor’s office, “students had the opportunity to learn about the work of this government organization,” Hartup said, and also how to write and tell stories.

“It just adds another layer of their experience,” she said. “Here in honors, we are big on experiential learning. But none of this would really be possible without the efforts and time devoted by the amazing team at the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office.”

DeGenova said she didn’t hesitate when approached about the project by the honors college.

“I believe part of our main role is community engagement,” she said.

While people know about the work her office does prosecuting criminal cases, the other work is lesser known.

“To be able to come to YSU and to share that with the students is truly an honor,” DeGenova said.

People talk about young people leaving the area after graduation and moving to bigger cities, she said.

“What we have found is engaging youth in our community and in these initiatives not only builds confidence and networking, but it gives them the ability to succeed,” the prosecutor said.

Her office introduced the honors students to some of those other functions, and the students selected areas to write articles that will be published on the prosecutor’s office website and in the quarterly publication, Justice Journal.

The work also may appear in “With Honors,” the Sokolov Honors College magazine.

The students chose three areas on which to focus for their articles.

Millie Chovan, a sophomore nursing student, decided to write about Hope, the prosecutor’s office comfort therapy dog-in-training, who will help crime victims and others who testify in trials. 

Hope is a rescue dog, a 1-year-old golden retriever, and the article focuses on the training process for the dog.

“When we first started with this, I didn’t really think there would be a way for me to connect with this project,” Chovan said. “But who doesn’t love dogs? It was such an easy way to connect.”

Frankie DelColle, a junior who is studying prelaw, is one of the students who worked on an article about the prosecutor’s office’s response to the East Palestine train derailment.

Fire departments from Mahoning County, as well as the county hazmat team, were among the emergency responders when the Norfolk Southern train derailed in the Columbiana County village Feb. 3.

Through its civil division, the prosecutor’s office represents those departments, and some of the equipment was contaminated during the train derailment response.

“They had to come to an agreement with Norfolk Southern that they would pay for the equipment that got damaged, as long as they could prove that it got damaged,” DelColle said. “That wasn’t hard to do. Everything was destroyed.”

That was good information to learn as he and three others who worked on the project are prelaw students, he said.

For their article, Emily Vero, a senior studying interactive language arts education, and John Alexander, a junior biology major, focused on how the prosecutor’s office works with the Mahoning County Drug Court.

“It was really interesting to go down there and see how the justice system works,” Alexander said.

That’s not something biology majors generally get to see, he said.

It was nice to see people who complete the drug court program given second chances, walk out with smiles on their faces and have the opportunity to begin their lives again, Alexander said.

It was a learning experience for Vero too.

“It’s sort of one of those community outreach programs where I didn’t know that this even existed in the Mahoning Valley,” she said. 

That’s the kind of program that goes on in larger cities, Vero said.

“But this positive work is being done right here in Youngstown,” she said. 

The partnership with the prosecutor’s office is part of the overall community engagement efforts at YSU. The work will culminate in the YSU application in 2026 to the Carnegie Foundation Elective Classification for Community Engagement.

Pictured at top: From left are YSU student Millie Chovan; Gina DeGenova, Mahoning County prosecutor; Mollie Hartup, director of Sokolov Honors College at YSU; and YSU students Emily Vero, John Alexander and Frankie DelColle.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.