By Sherry DiBari

Antonio Passaro Jr.'s life has been filled with varied pursuits. He's had a long career in law enforcement, is a professor and has even been an actor.

He's also been on a 25-year educational journey that has taken him through almost all of the higher educational institutions in South Hampton Roads. It will culminate when he receives his doctorate from Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education and Professional Studies in December. His degree is in higher education leadership with an emphasis in criminology and criminal justice.

He earned an associate degree in administration and justice from Tidewater Community College in 2001, a bachelor's in criminology at Virginia Wesleyan University in 2004 and a master's in criminal justice with an emphasis in management and planning from Norfolk State University in 2007.

Passaro also works full time as professor and department chair of TCC's criminal justice program and part time as a federal police officer at NASA Langley Research Center.

A native of Virginia Beach, Passaro is also a first-generation American. Both of his parents are from Naples, Italy.

"For me to be where I'm at right now, it's pretty unheard of," Passaro said, "coming from a family where my mom didn't work, and my dad worked hard. They were raising me, my brother and sister."

At age 22, 12 credits short of an associate degree from TCC, Passaro joined the Virginia State Police.

"I had dreams about being in law enforcement since I was a young child," he said. "To me, it was a calling."

After graduating from the police academy in 1998, Passaro worked in Chesterfield County for a few years before transferring back to the Virginia Beach area.

He spent 10 years as a state trooper with the Virginia State Police and another five-plus years as a special agent investigating high-tech crimes.

"I knew that it was important for me to go back to school," he said. "So, I went back to TCC later on and finished up the total credits," he said.

Then he kept going.

"I literally earned three degrees in a nine-year span," said Passaro, who did this while working full time in law enforcement. "I earned all three of my degrees behind the wheel of a police car."

Passaro's dissertation covers an important and relevant topic: campus safety.

His research focused on operational safety plans colleges and universities use during crises ­- both natural and man-made.

Passaro compared Idaho State University, an institution that holds an Emergency Management Accreditation (EMAP) certification, to four universities that did not. EMAP certification institutions are considered to have some of the best operational long-term safety plans in the country.

"His topic is of particular importance during this time of COVID-19 and all the other issues facing higher education," said Passaro's dissertation chair, Dennis Gregory, associate professor of higher education and community college leadership and interim assistant department chair.

When not teaching, working in law enforcement, studying or working out, Passaro has another passion: acting.

He had roles in the "Ice Cold Killers" and "Wicked Attraction" series, both on the Investigative Discovery channel, and portrayed a celebrity in "The Last Moment of Clarity" a full-length film made in Hampton Roads.

"There's something about being on set and being in character," he said. "I just really love it."

What's next for Passaro?

"I just need a little break right now. I've been in school my entire life. Literally my entire life," he said.

That break might come with a new hobby he recently picked up: saltwater fishing and boating. His 24-foot boat hasn't seen much water lately.

"Now that I'm done, I'll be able to take it out more," he said.

Related News Stories

For Angelos Angelopoulos, Persistence Is Key in Coding

The native of Greece, whose passion for computer science began at age 12, will receive his B.S. from the College of Sciences in December. (More)

Engineering Student Didn’t Let Deafness Get in the Way of Earning Her Master’s Degree

Kathy Carpenter hopes her story serves as an inspiration to others. (More)

Larry Giddens’ Journey to His Master’s Degree Included an International Detour

He first enrolled at ODU 24 years ago before embarking on an opera singing career that took him around the world. (More)