Month after bombing, FBI agent completes her master’s degree online from BU


Graduate Kristen von KleinSmid with Professor Mary Ellen Mastrorilli

On April 15, Kristen von KleinSmid was supposed to begin studying the various issues involved in prosecuting, defending, adjudicating, and sanctioning white collar crime. It was the first day of Week 6 in her final seven-week course before graduating from Boston University’s online Master of Criminal Justice program, and she was ready to join her fellow CJ 632 students in reading the term’s closing week of lecture content and digging into its last three discussions.

But then two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon changed those plans.

A native of Southern California who helped the U.S. Air Force build the C-17 cargo plane after graduating from USC with an engineering degree, von KleinSmid was hired by the FBI in the mid-1990s, and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she applied for a supervisor position at Bureau headquarters working on terrorism matters. She got the job, and held the position for three years before returning to Los Angeles, and eventually moving to the FBI’s field office in Boston.

On April 15, thus, she was working as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge – one of five assistants to Richard DesLauriers, the individual who led the federal investigation and updated the public at press conferences – and so when the bombs went off along Boylston Street, she was pressed into service. Her course readings and discussions would have to wait because, as she put it, “that was my case.”

She didn’t offer any details in a recent phone conversation, other than to acknowledge it was the case of a lifetime. “I’ll never again experience what I experienced from 4/15 to 4/22,” von KleinSmid said of a week that included the explosions that killed three, the identifying of two suspects, the manhunt for the alleged attackers, the death of one and the apprehension of the other, and the initial stages of an investigation that remains ongoing.

It left little time for anything else, including sleep. And so three days after the bombing, finally having a chance to go home, von KleinSmid logged into the course and posted to one of the discussion boards her apologies for a lack of participation that week – but by then, her classmates had already made clear they understood.

She’s not sure how they did it, but a couple of them went out of their way, reached out to the FBI to find her contact information, and sent her messages. They just wanted to wish her luck while telling her they were thinking of her, and that she was making them proud.

“That was awesome,” von KleinSmid said.

It was also in line with von KleinSmid’s description of her experience at BU. She says she made some really good friends in the criminal justice program, which took her two years to complete. She particularly enjoyed the live classroom lectures, which helped her to realize “there’s a lot of really smart people out there,” and helped allay the early apprehensions she had about getting her degree through an online program.

“How’s it going to work? How are you going to interact?” she wondered at the beginning. “But I’d say that you probably interact more in an online program than you would if you were sitting in a huge classroom with 250 people not wanting to raise your hand. The discussions require you to interact with at least 15 people every week. And some professors really make it fun.”

Her favorite was Mary Ellen Mastrorilli, because the professor’s passion for the material and eagerness to engage students were apparent, though von KleinSmid says she enjoyed the program and its instructors on the whole. Initially she wasn’t sure how she’d manage to complete a “very difficult online program” while simultaneously working 60-70 hours a week, but she embraced the challenge, liked learning, and “somehow made it through” thanks to hard work.

“Having worked in law enforcement for the last 17 years, I thought I knew the criminal justice system pretty well – but I learned a lot,” she said. “The classes were really good.”

“One of my first classes was Victimology. Working in terrorism it’s usually working the bad guys before they do something bad; they haven’t really victimized people, so I don’t really work with a lot of victims. It was nice to get an appreciation as to how the victims tend to get revictimized by the press and by law enforcement. That was an eye-opening experience.”

Already slated for a promotion prior to the Boston bombing, von KleinSmid has since moved to Washington, D.C., for a new assignment that officially began on May 5. With her relocation she is now a Section Chief in the FBI’s Security Division, and in that role her responsibilities include the oversight of the FBI police, security details for the Director and the Attorney General, and the physical security of all FBI buildings.

It’s a big job, but she still found time to return to Boston this past weekend, visiting the city for a couple of days so she could participate in Metropolitan College’s commencement exercises. She attended an afternoon reception put on by the criminal justice department. Later that night she walked across the stage to receive her diploma from Dean Tanya Zlateva. Then she brought that with her back to Washington – along with all of the knowledge accrued as one part of a most memorable Boston experience. Congratulations and thank you, Kristen.

One Comment

Harriet Lewis Pallette posted on May 24, 2013 at 12:15 am

Kristi is an amazing young lady and even though i live in California now, i am from Boston and Hingham, Massachusetts and would not have wanted anyone less in helping in the very sad marathon bombing situation. Have known Kristi and her family for many years and only been more and more proud of her every year we have watched her grow. We are in good hands!

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