Erin Schaible’s original goal was to be a fashion designer. Armed with a bachelor of science in clothing and textiles, she set out for the Fashion District of New York City to make her mark, but as things happen in the Big Apple, Schaible’s interests morphed from designing to retail, and then to retail security, which she found fascinating. The security officers, she said, “were having so much fun catching people stealing things. And that’s how I sort of found my way into law enforcement.”
After retiring in 2018 with 28 years with the Fairfax County Police Department—rising to the rank of Deputy Chief of Patrol—Schaible was named in 2019 as Chief of Police for the Fairfax City Police Department, becoming the first woman to run the 66-officer department.
While an advanced degree was not a requirement for either of her promotions in Fairfax County or the job with Fairfax City, Schaible earned a Master’s in Public Administration in 2007 from the Schar School of Policy and Government.
The degree, she said, was “a ‘bucket list’ sort of thing. It seems really intimidating to get your master’s, but I like challenges.”
The challenges abounded. Not only was she putting in the considerable work to get a master’s degree, she was also working as a duty officer in Fairfax County. Her shifts consisted of “one month of midnights, one month of daywork—and I didn’t have an office,” she said. She studied assignments in her police cruiser and attended class in her police uniform after completing her patrol. (Her classmates gave her the “Most Likely to Respond to a Major Incident” award.)
On top of her demanding police work, she had three children under the ages of five, quite the handful for her and her husband, Lance, a captain with the Fairfax County police force.
But her Schar School professors and her county supervisors provided the flexibility she needed to complete her degree, she said.
“Erin was one of those students who started out strong and then got better,” said public administration professor James Burroughs. “She is all about service over self, and those qualities have been recognized during her career…Those of us who have known her simply said ‘when and where will she become chief of police?’ There was never a thought of ‘if.’”
A highlight for Schaible was a study abroad trip to the Netherlands, where she saw first-hand how government agencies in that nation work together. “For me, it was really powerful,” she said. “I got a lot from that.”
Other things she learned as a master’s student stay with her, even a dozen years later. The academic rigor “helped me tremendously in organizing my thoughts,” she said. “Even now, when I do a ‘needs assessment’ for the agency, having the experience of the master’s program—writing papers and organizing your thoughts and being able to come up with a well-thought-out solution to a problem—is immensely helpful. You’re able to demonstrate your needs and logically show it and articulate why.”
Schaible said she stays in touch with some of her study cohorts from Mason, and Burroughs said she’s “really supportive of our current MPA students in helping to plan and speaking at our Local Government Night,” which brings regional leaders to the classroom.
As for getting a master’s degree, the chief said she would do it again. “I recommend it to everybody,” she said. “It’s a really positive experience. If I can do it in the situation I was in, you can do it, if you really put your mind to it.”