Outstanding Islander Graduate Alexa Mortl ’22 Earns Criminal Justice Degree, Graduates with 4.0 GPA

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Alexa Mortl ’22 first heard of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi when she was a sophomore in high school, living in a small East Texas town seven hours away. She knew the Texas A&M System as a whole was recognized and respected nationwide, and that the Island University itself was beautiful. She thought it would be nice to attend someday.

The plans for her dream school were quickly put aside, though, when her mother’s sudden death turned her life upside down.

Still, Mortl pushed forward. Her path to the Island University was not linear – in fact, it would take her nearly a decade to get here.

But now, the Summer 2022 Outstanding Islander Graduate for the College of Liberal Arts is set to cross the stage Aug. 6, earning her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a perfect 4.0 GPA. The ceremony, which includes more than 700 graduates and is the university’s largest-ever summer ceremony, will bring closure to 10 years of hard work that began under tragic circumstances.

“My mother’s death was unexpected,” Mortl said. “She was still so young.”

The family lived on a horse ranch in the small town of Edgewood. In 2011, Mortl’s mother was competing in an endurance race when a tragic accident resulted in her death, changing life as Mortl knew it.

“My father worked nights as a detective for the Dallas Police Department, which meant I spent most of my junior year of high school alone at night,” she said. “I decided the healthiest thing for me was to graduate early and move out so I could officially step into my adult life which had already begun against my choosing.”

She sacrificed her standing in the top 10 of her high school class and scholarship opportunities to finish early in 2012. She enrolled in Tyler Junior College, earning an associate degree in criminal justice. Shortly after graduation, she married her husband, Keaton, and began working for the Tyler Police Department.

She and Keaton welcomed two children, Wesley and Amiya, and Mortl made the decision to leave her position at the police department to be a stay-at-home mom. Then life threw another twist in their plans: Keaton was laid off but found another job in South Texas, so the couple made the hard decision to move their young family seven hours away from their family support.

“Making life decisions without my mom’s guidance has been one of the most difficult things about losing her,” Mortl said. “I needed her advice on many occasions, especially in my early adulthood years.”

While moving so far away from family was difficult, Mortl said she was excited to be so close to the college she had once dreamed of attending. With a baby strapped to her chest and a toddler at her feet, she scheduled a meeting with a TAMU-CC advisor, but ultimately decided the timing wasn’t right.

Several years passed, and Mortl said she regretted each one she let slide by without returning to her education. In January 2021, she tried again; she was quickly accepted to TAMU-CC and her credits from Tyler Junior College easily transferred.

Soon after, she would meet a faculty member who would greatly influence this next chapter of her life, Dr. Sarah Scott, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Public Administration, Criminal Justice Applied Experience Coordinator.

“She reached out to me after I was accepted to this school, even before classes started, to inform me about internship opportunities,” Mortl said. “She took time to listen to my career interests and guide me in the right direction.”

One of her first classes at the Island University was with Scott, who was pregnant at the time. Mortl says that only solidified their connection, as the reality of finishing a degree while juggling her own children set in.

“A lot of my peers were younger than me, fresh out of high school or just a few years into college,” Mortl said. “During group projects, we needed to meet on campus, which meant I had to get a babysitter or plan around my children’s school and husband’s work schedules.”

She created contingency plans, working ahead in case one of her children got sick. She sacrificed, missing her children’s sports, relying on neighbors to transport them to practices and games while she was at school and her husband worked 12-hour days. When he got home, he’d relieve her, and she would study late into the night.

“My husband has always supported my career aspirations,” she said. “He knows that I have a ‘calling,’ and he knows I will not feel fulfilled in life until I achieve that calling.”

Fueled by her father’s law enforcement background and abuse her mother endured as a child, Mortl’s calling is to work as a detective in human trafficking and child crimes at the federal level for Homeland Security Investigations.

This passion helped Scott guide Mortl into an internship in the Child Crimes Unit at the District Attorney’s office, assisting child crimes prosecutor Elizabeth Tagle.

“I got to see how prosecutors help detectives make their cases and advise them on what evidence to collect,” Mortl said. “It was a deeply educational experience for me.”

She liked it so much that she completed two semesters of internship, with the recommendation of her supervisor.

“As Alexa’s internship was wrapping up, she contacted me to say that she felt she had more to do at the District Attorney’s Office and requested another semester,” Scott said. “Her supervisor wrote to say that ‘Her passion for helping victims of crimes like human trafficking and child abuse is palpable and admirable.’”

Through this dogged work and passion for her calling, Mortl finished her undergraduate degree and the two internships in just a year and a half and is ready to take the next step – applying to Homeland Security.

“Something that worked in my favor was the resilience you get as you gain a more accurate perspective of how quickly time passes,” she said. “Setting a life goal, working at it day in and day out, and seeing it come to fruition is an incredibly fulfilling feeling. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go back to school at my dream college and for the opportunities that this experience will open up for me in the future.”