When it comes to finding things, Private Investigator Ana Carolina Lanuza is a consummate pro. Within just a few short years, she discovered her path to an education, opportunity and recognition as winner of AIU’s 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award. Along the way, Ana has also donated her time to finding and rescuing nearly 30 runaway kids and has been named president of the Florida Association of Private Investigators. It’s hard to believe that this accomplished businesswoman, association president and award-winning MBA grad once struggled with A.D.D. and hated reading. Ana earned her Associate of Business Administration in 2007, her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice in 2008 and her MBA in 2009, all at AIU. So how did she get it all done? We interviewed Ana to find out her secret to getting ahead.
What were your programs of study?
Well, for my associates it was Business Administration with a concentration in Criminal Justice. For my bachelor’s, I studied Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Science. I earned my Master of Business Administration with a concentration in International Business.
What were you doing before you attended AIU? What motivated you to go back to school?
Before starting at AIU, I was working full time for a law firm and also working as a private investigator intern. I was motivated to go back to school because my dream was to work for the FBI, and you need that little paper if you want to have a good career.
How has your education helped you get where you are today?
My education has helped me in various ways. My criminal justice degree has helped me to be a better investigator and understand the system better, although you can’t just rely on education; you need street smarts also in this field. My MBA has helped me understand the elements of having a business. It is very important to have an education; you are able to show your commitment in the subject matter and that you are knowledgeable in the field. Having an education sets you apart from those that don’t, and it gives you a foot in the door. You can never stop learning; you need to keep current in your field by taking classes and always staying up-to-date. I was also elected President of the Florida Association of Private Investigators, which has given me even more credibility in my field.
Hear Ana’s Distinguished Alumni Award Speech
How did you decide to open up your own private investigation agency?
I always had a dream to work for the FBI growing up and even met with the recruiter in Miami while I was working on my bachelor’s and working as an intern as a private investigator. I was still too young, according to the recruiter, so I decided that if they didn’t want me for whatever reason, I was still going to pursue investigations. So it sort of just happened. I decided to open my agency and run with it. I look back, and I’ve made a difference in the community. It’s a great feeling.
A big part of your focus is on rescuing runaway kids — can you talk a bit about that?
Yes, at Leverage Investigations we dedicate 40% of our practice to rescuing missing kids, especially runaways, pro bono. We found a need to do this in Miami, Florida, my hometown and base, after my first missing persons case. I worked a case my partner found in a small newspaper that is published in Spanish called el Clarin. It struck his attention because among all the ads for local PIs was this ad for a missing teenage girl. When he told me about the case, I jumped on it with him and went to visit her family on South Beach. At the time, I was working for his PI agency.
To keep the story short, we were threatened by the police department that we could only work when they worked and had to call them and get clearance. We ended up finding her after taking her brother to dinner and requesting that he produce his phone records to see if we could find a clue. When we were finishing dinner, I mentioned to my partner that her brother had saved half of his food. Later that evening she called her parents to pick her up. She had been living on the streets.
We give back to the community by helping them find missing persons, especially runaways. The police departments don’t search for runaways and don’t have the manpower and work schedule. As PIs we can work 24/7, 365 days a year. I have worked on Christmas Day looking for a missing child. Every minute is essential, and the first 24 hours are the most critical.
Together my partner and I rescued 26 missing children last year. It gives us satisfaction to be able to help families find their loved ones. I’d like to change the way missing people are searched for, especially in those first 24 hours.
Did you have any obstacles to overcome in your path to completing your degree, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Growing up I suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder, or A.D.D., and had problems with reading and comprehension. I was in remedial classes for reading and would have to reread things several times to understand them. I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to study on exam days. It was a challenge, and I hated to read because of it.
Why did you decide to attend school online?
I decided to attend online classes because it was a better fit for me. I could submit my assignments and attend classes at a time that was good for me. I was working full time and also doing my internship. I had attended my local community college and that just didn’t work out for me. I ended up flunking out.
What tips would you share for those considering going back to school or for current AIU students?
I would encourage students who are considering going back or who are currently studying at AIU to focus on the assignments, to ask questions if they do not understand a project or an assignment, to make it a point to network with their professors and peers. Join an honor society, network within their field — it’s all about meeting people and networking, because you never know who that person knows. Finally, make a LinkedIn profile and connect with as many people as possible in their field.
What can you share about the faculty at AIU? How did your professors support you?
The faculty at AIU is beyond amazing! The professors were always available for any questions, even if it was the smallest little question. They wanted to see you succeed, and that was very important to me.
How does it feel to come back to AIU as a distinguished alumna?
It’s such an amazing feeling! The day I received the phone call I couldn’t believe it! I really thought that someone else had been chosen. I never thought my story could inspire so many people. It is quite an honor to receive the Distinguished Alumni award and be able to share my story with over 1,500 people at the August 2013 graduation ceremony. I was so nervous that I had to speak to so many people, but shaking and all, I inspired people, and that’s what it’s all about. Thank you to everyone who supported me.
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