Court is in session at Missouri Southern State University, where students can proceed with mock trials.

Students of all majors have the opportunity to experience an immersive learning environment in the university’s new mock courtroom in the Mills Anderson Justice Center. The room, which had been used as storage space for a decade, has been transformed into a realistic courtroom with witness and jury boxes, a judge’s bench and television monitors.

A ribbon was cut Tuesday for the new courtroom, which was completed before the start of the fall semester. The new space has already been used by the university’s mock trial team, the law enforcement academy, the criminal justice department and the social work department.

“This courtroom represents an extension of our ability to educate our students on the processes of law and order,” said Paula Carson, provost and vice president of academic affairs at MSSU. “Importantly, this venue will be used by students in a range of majors, not only to prepare those who one day plan to practice law, but also those whose professions will enable them to serve as advocates and expert witnesses.”

Carson said the university worked with several partners to make the vision a reality. Crossland Construction completed the courtroom and donated labor. The wooden benches were purchased at a reduced price, and the jury seats were repurposed from a church that will soon be demolished at Seventh Street and Pearl Avenue to make way for a new Jasper County Courts Building in Joplin. New lighting and audio/visual equipment were also integrated into the room.

The department was able to use campus resources, criminal justice program fees, leftover grant funds, donations and other sources of funding to complete the mock courtroom. The project took less than a year to finish and cost an estimated $15,000, according to Tim Wilson, chairman of the criminal justice department.

“Through this process, we have created a judicial environment that’s not replicated anywhere else in an educational environment in the Four-State Area,” Carson said.

The mock courtroom marks one of several immersive learning options offered by the criminal justice department. Others include a crime scene investigation classroom and four crime scene simulation rooms as part of the university’s simulated investigative residence, as well as an indoor driving simulator and two firearms simulation laser shooting systems.

Wilson, who has served as the department chair since 2015, said that it has always been his goal to create as many immersive learning environments as possible.

“We’ve been able to do that in a number of areas, but we were lacking in this area,” he said. “This is certainly one of those that we identified as a need in an area that could really benefit the students.”

Mikh Gunderman, assistant professor of criminal justice, said the idea was a collaborative effort among the international and political affairs divisions, the criminal justice department and Carson. Each week, the mock courtroom is used to run a practice trial, which allows students to gain courtroom experience they wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the region, Gunderman said.

“This takes it beyond the textbook,” he said. “It allows students to fulfill or practice multiple roles, whether that be prosecution, defense, judge or juror. Hands-on learning allows them to better prepare for the real world. What we learn in textbooks is exceptionally important, but it only takes students so far. The firsthand practice, in whatever form we can give to them, really prepares them to graduate and walk into a successful career.”

Regional appeal

The mock courtroom at Missouri Southern State University could play host to mock trial teams from outside the school. “MSSU often hosts a regional mock trial tournament, and we are excited to invite schools from all over the region to compete in our new courtroom," said Nicholas Nicoletti, a co-adviser and assistant coach for the team, in a statement from the university.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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