Brenda McAdoo has spent the last 24 years on a mission: to protect the American people from criminals here and terrorists abroad. As a special agent and crisis negotiator with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, she investigated and brought justice to crimes against children, violent crime, organized crime, and international kidnapping. So after retiring from the FBI, it’s no wonder she wasn’t looking for just any career.
“I still wanted to do something that matters,” McAdoo said. “I was looking for not just a job but another mission.”
The intersection of her retirement and the introduction of a new online criminal justice degree at Abilene Christian University, her alma mater, brought a new mission into clear focus. McAdoo began in Spring 2021 as director and associate professor for ACU Online’s undergraduate criminal justice program.
“The transition for me now is going from using skills myself to using my experience to help the next generation of police, victim advocates and negotiators,” she said. “I really feel a lot of positive energy about what ACU is doing to prepare the next generation of law enforcement. I’m hoping to be able to take all the things I’ve done, and apply that to helping ACU in its mission.”
Although she’s originally from California and now makes her home in Dallas, working for Abilene Christian is a coming home of sorts, since ACU is the place that inspired McAdoo to pursue her career in criminal justice. As a freshman in 1988, she planned to teach English or history, but through her experience in the first cohort of Jack Pope Fellows, her life took a different direction.
The program, named in honor of Judge Jack Pope (’34) for his considerable contributions to his state and nation as a former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, awards scholarships and offers students opportunities to learn about and gain practical experience in public service, attend special lectures, and participate in service activities.
McAdoo said those experiences, including working as legislative aide to Dr. Bob Hunter (’52), ACU vice president emeritus and then-member of the Texas House of Representatives, piqued her interest in public service. She chose to switch to a double major in political science and public service with an associate’s degree in biblical studies. She then went to Pepperdine Law School on a full scholarship and after passing the bar exam became a prosecutor with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
“The appeal to me was to be in places where I wouldn’t have temptation to let my ethics and morals go,” McAdoo said. “I always wanted to be on the good side. I was drawn to being part of the system that helps people in danger, or hurting, or in crisis.”
For three years, that’s exactly what she did and planned to do long-term. Until a midnight car chase made for a sudden swerve in her career path.
After a late-night interview with a police officer for a case she planned to prosecute, McAdoo was riding with the officer back to the police station when the routine car trip turned into a real-time pursuit of a criminal on the run.
“A woman runs into the street screaming, ‘I’ve been carjacked,’ ” McAdoo said. “We can see the car taking off, so the police officer takes off after the carjacker. It’s a full-on car chase with lights and sirens, and I’m just sitting in the front seat holding on. We chased him, tires squealing, over a median, then he got out and ran, so the officer did too. Over the radio, I could hear other officers from all over town putting their sirens on to come help, and I took the radio and told them where we were. They cuffed the guy, and I was a witness to the whole thing, so I got to sit in on all the interviews later. I realized this was what I wanted to do – putting the puzzle pieces together, conducting the interviews, looking at the evidence, understanding why people do things, being able to talk to people in a way that they tell you the truth.”
A year later, McAdoo was one of 2,000 agents accepted to the FBI Academy (out of 70,000 applicants). Despite being one of only 14 women in her class of 50, and one of the youngest at age 26, she knew she was in the right place.
“It was a perfect fit,” she said. “The work took me all over the U.S. and into other countries. I never looked back. ACU, Pepperdine and my work as a prosecutor all prepared me to excel, to be in a place with the FBI that I could do some good and have an impact on how investigations are run and how people are treated.”
McAdoo spent 24 years as a special agent investigating crimes against children, violent crime, and organized crime. She served on an organized crime task force that investigated groups committing extortion, kidnapping and murder for hire. She was a member of the FBI crisis negotiation team from 1998 to 2020, including serving as team leader for seven years. She trained law enforcement officers in crisis negotiation skills both here and abroad, and she was a certified federal mediator for the U.S. Department of Justice from 2007 to 2020. And now, she’s shaping future agents, officers and servants through a new online undergraduate criminal justice program at ACU.
“It just seemed like such a good fit: I could use the skills I’ve developed over years to help ACU widen that ministry,” she said. “It felt like God led me here, just like he led me to Abilene as a student. When I went to law school, I was going to be a prosecutor or a judge, but then just one experience pushed me to the FBI. I felt God’s hand in that path, and I feel really led to be at ACU now. It’s very different; I’m not going out arresting people and putting the puzzle pieces together about how and why people do things. But I have a lot of great stories about that for my students!”