“I wish I had taken the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program 20 years ago. It would have made my life so much easier. The knowledge I have acquired is not only benefitting me—in fact, it led to my promotion. But it benefits my company as well. The more I know, the more I can reduce our liability, save on worker’s comp claims, reduce the need for outside consultants, and most importantly, save our employees from getting sick or being injured on the job.” — Dawn Cole, Occupational Safety and Health
Dawn Cole loves her job—and from the mug she’s holding, can you tell
she also loves cats?! When she’s not working at Anaren Microwave, she’s
home caring for six special needs kitties—the forgotten animals of society
that no one wants because of their disabilities.
Never too late to learn
Dawn Cole was a bit reluctant to jump back into school; after all she graduated from SUNY – Empire State College in 2008 at the age of 48. She had always believed that the older we get, the harder it is for us to retain information. When she expressed her concerns to the University of Connecticut (UConn) eCampus staff, they suggested she try one of the courses for the program she was interested in—the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate—and then decide. But once she started, there was no looking back! As Dawn says, “I absolutely loved the program.” And earning the credential also led to her getting a promotion.
It’s never too late to learn. And learn is exactly what Dawn Cole did from the moment she started the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in the fall of 2014, until she completed it in December 2016. With the certificate in hand, she was promoted from Quality & Safety Coordinator to her current position as Senior Environmental Health and Safety Technician for Anaren Microwave in East Syracuse, NY.
Tuition reimbursement kicks in
Until enrolling in the program, Dawn had to learn the hard way: on the job. “I didn’t have any formal training when I started here in 1997 as a Quality Control Inspector. Sure, I had taken a few one-day workshops here and there, but that was it,” she notes. Then in 2013, her new supervisor reminded her that the company offers a tuition reimbursement program and suggested that she see if there were any courses that might fit her needs.
So Dawn hit the computer, did a Google search, and found several potential programs—but only one that really caught her eye. “The UConn name popped out to me. I knew of its outstanding reputation; after all, I’m from Syracuse and we are arch rivals with UConn! I called the Program Director, Professor Paul Bureau, and also talked with Donna Campbell, who supports the eCampus program students. They were so helpful every step of the way; they even held a seat for me while I was waiting for the reimbursement funds to come through. And during the entire two-plus years I was in the program, they bent over backwards to answer questions and resolve any tuition reimbursement issues I had.”
Not knowing what she didn’t know
From the moment Dawn began the first course, AH 3570 – Health and Safety Management in the Workplace, she quickly realized how much she didn’t know. “I had stumbled my way learning on the job. But that first course was a total eye opener.” Everything started to fall into place as she began learning the ‘whys’ behind all of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and her workplace safety policies. A lot of the course information had been reinforced through real-life experiences, which made retaining the information much easier.
“All of the professors were helpful and responsive,” she adds. “I could shoot off an email in the morning before work, and I would almost always hear back by that evening when I got home.”
Online is easier, right? Wrong!
So what about the online format? Did it meet Dawn’s expectations? Dawn says that when she was in college, she had done a few of her undergraduate courses online. So the platform was not entirely foreign. But when she started with the UConn online program, she was in for a big surprise.
“Some people think online courses are easier, but they aren’t—at least not the UConn courses,” says Dawn. “I found that they were much more intensive than classes I had taken at SUNY. So if you are considering this program, be prepared to work. Each week focuses on a specific topic. The professor assigns reading materials, along with a corresponding question to which each student is required to provide an online comment, as well as asked to respond to three other students’ comments. It took a lot of thought and concentration, so I consciously structured my time, putting aside a couple of hours every night to read the materials and participate in the online discussions.”
Up at 4:30 a.m. with her diabetic cat
Dawn really appreciated having online access to a dedicated bulletin board where students in the program could post comments anytime—day or night. “I have a cat that needs insulin at 4:30 every morning. While I was up, I’d check the bulletin board and usually respond to someone’s comment. Sometimes I would get a response back immediately! We had a ball! I got to meet so many people from all over the country; I even met someone from right here in Syracuse.”
What courses did Dawn feel were most helpful? As she says, “I am not a math person. So I was really scared about taking AH 3571 – Health Hazards in the Workplace, as I knew it included Industrial Hygiene and OSHA, meaning there would likely be a lot of formulas and calculations. But it ended up being my favorite course! Professor Pasiuk and Professor Bureau took the mystery out of the formulas by breaking them down in a way that made them easy to learn and use.”
In fact, Dawn says that soon after completing the program, she was put in charge of doing a comprehensive solder metal assessment to determine levels of lead fumes in four different locations throughout the East Syracuse headquarters. “I had to get all of the test equipment together and calibrated, then run the program. Having taken the Health Hazards course gave me the confidence to tackle this challenge,” she says and adds: “In another course, we delved deep into the Centers for Disease Control chemical database websites and learned how to access the information available there. That’s also been incredibly helpful here at work.”
Learning from other students was another big part of the program. Says Dawn: “The professors asked us to bring in real-life experiences. I remember one student from the Navy talking about what can happen in the confines of a ship. Another student, a firefighter, told us all about chemical spills his squad had dealt with. In the AH 3574 – Ergonomics course, I shared photos of our old—and new—microscopes and talked about the studies we did documenting the costs of neck and shoulder injuries and how preventing those injuries will ultimately pay for our new equipment.”
In conclusion, Dawn says: “I wish I had taken the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program 20 years ago. It would have made my life so much easier. The knowledge I have acquired is not only benefitting me—in fact, it led to my promotion. But it benefits my company as well. The more I know, the more I can reduce our liability, save on worker’s comp claims, reduce the need for outside consultants, and most importantly, save our employees from getting sick or being injured on the job.”