“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 Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, Fall 2016
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.”
“If you want training that will help you in your job now, this is the program to take. Not only will you learn about present-day problems and issues, but you’ll take away a new set of skills that you can apply to virtually any type of related Occupational Safety and Health job. What I learned in the program I use on a daily basis.”
— Ginger Parker, Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, Spring 2017
Ginger Parker and her dogs, Allie and Daisy, take a hike in the
Las Cruces Desert of New Mexico.
Training for the Real World
Ginger Parker had been working as a Safety Specialist for several years before she decided to look for additional training to enhance her skills and knowledge. When she came across the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, she knew she had come to the right place. From the moment she began the program in May 2015, she was able to put her new skills to work, protecting the safety and health of the students and employees at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
Ginger Parker is no neophyte. She has worked in some capacity in the Occupational Safety and Health field since graduating from New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. In 2015, she was thinking about going to graduate school to further her knowledge in the field of Biology. But as she says, “I could have gone back to school to get my Master’s of Science in Biology, but I knew that it really would not help enhance my knowledge and skills in the field of environmental health and safety. I wanted to find something that would enhance my current skills and advance me in my field—something that could help me get ready for opportunities that may present themselves in the future.”
Ginger started researching various programs. When she came across the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program from UConn, she was immediately intrigued. “When I learned more about the faculty, I was impressed that they had real-world experience in a wide range of industries. It was a clear indication to me that the courses would be taught by experts who are up to date on what’s happening now. “
In fact, says Ginger, throughout the program, the instructors often used the weekly assignments as an opportunity for students to go out into the field to observe and evaluate various workplace environments. As Ginger explains: “One assignment was to find someone in the industry to talk to about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The instructor specified what we needed to look for and the questions to ask, as well as provided clear instructions to not put ourselves at risk. Some students contacted the building managers of their apartment complexes or managers at their workplace. I was fortunate because I work at a university. Our HVAC manager took me all around the building where the air handling system is located and explained how it all works. That was a real eye opener. It improved my understanding of ‘sick building syndrome,’ what it is, how it relates to indoor air quality, and what Occupational Safety and Health professionals can do to ferret out underlying issues and resolve them.”
Ginger says she also left the program with a much better grasp of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. “Thanks to the program, I am able to find information about specific regulations and interpret them much more quickly and effectively. And I was able to immediately use my new knowledge on the job, particularly with my safety and workplace hazard inspections. Learning about OSHA regs was very, very helpful.”
Another course, AH 3574 – Ergonomics, which is offered as an elective, has given Ginger the extra training she needed to perform ergonomic assessments. “I began doing these assessments when one of our safety specialists retired. Taking the course accelerated my knowledge base and skills so that I now feel more prepared to conduct thorough assessments or respond to workplace injuries as effectively as possible,” says Ginger, who conducts these assessment not just on the main campus, but at the university’s agricultural science centers located throughout the state. “I remember one time an employee asked me to look at the type of equipment being used in one of our agricultural centers to help him figure out why some of his staff had neck and back pain. We were out in the field for quite a while, looking at our tractors. I realized that the seats did nothing to cut down on the vibration that the operators had to withstand. I did some research and found replacement seats that are ergonomically designed specifically to reduce vibration.”
Because Ginger works all over the state of New Mexico, she found the online platform to be a big plus. “Since I have to travel a lot at certain times of the year, I could never have participated in a traditional program. Thankfully, with the online platform, I was able to work on assignments from my hotel room.” Ginger also adds that HuskyCT, which is powered by Blackboard, was very easy to use and learn. “A couple of times, when I had questions, I just contacted the instructors and they’d respond very quickly.”
Ginger says she was especially surprised at the connections she made with the other online students. As she notes, “I thought I might not have the chance to interact with other people. But it was completely the opposite. We were required to participate in many discussions throughout the program. Even though I wasn’t sitting in a classroom, it almost felt like I was there. And because I was enrolled as a UConn student, I was assigned a UConn email address and got all kinds of correspondence from the university—different activities, programs, announcements. I told our program director, Paul Bureau, that though I am a proud NMSU alumni, after being part of this program, I am also proud to say that part of me will forever be connected to UConn. Go Aggies! Go Huskies!”
Ginger has some advice for students thinking about enrolling in the certificate program. “If you want training that will help you in your job now, this is the program to take. Not only will you learn about present-day problems and issues, but you’ll take away a new set of skills that you can apply to virtually any type of related Occupational Safety and Health job. What I learned in the program I use on a daily basis.” And she adds, “If there are any textbooks required for the courses you choose, you may be able to rent them online. It was a great option for me. I could bookmark and highlight pages and sections, as well as easily access any websites embedded in the text.”
“If you are concerned that an online credential isn’t the same as earning credits on campus, don’t be. Ivy League schools all across the U.S. offer online programs. At the end of the day, the certificate is from UConn. It’s not only an online credential—it’s a UConn credential, and that means a well-designed and planned online program that will suit your educational needs.”
— Mehdi Hosseini, Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, Spring 2017
Prior to moving back to Toronto, Ontario, Mehdi Hosseini worked on an oil
sands construction site in Alberta, Canada for Pacer Promec Energy
Corporation. In addition to his core responsibilities and duties as the
Project Controls Lead, he also helped implement initiatives to ensure
safety requirements were met at the project site.
Filling the Gap
With his extensive various corporate and construction experience, along with exposure to various safety issues, Mehdi quickly realized the value and impact that health and safety can have on a company’s operation at the project level, as well as the personal level. That’s why he made plans to educate himself formally in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) field. After the completion of his project in Alberta, he moved back to Toronto and decided to invest his time in taking the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program from the University of Connecticut (UConn). This was also an opportunity for him to fill the gap in his resume while looking for a job and to add new skills to his resume that could open doors to new opportunities.
Whether you’re a skilled trade worker or project manager, working at a construction site can be a rewarding experience. Regardless of your responsibilities, safety is the number one priority—not just on site, but in all aspects of your daily life—notes Mehdi Hosseini. As he points out, “A simple incident, such as a loose tool potentially falling while you are working high up can cost thousands of dollars for a company. It can delay the project—and delay workers from doing their jobs—for many hours while an investigation is conducted. That can be a huge loss for the company. A poor safety record can also hurt a company’s reputation and even cost lives.”
And in fact, while Mehdi was working in Alberta, occasional safety stand-down investigations were conducted and all construction workers were required to stop working during the investigations. “The cost of safety issues can be in the millions in extreme cases,” says Mehdi, who at the time, worked for the company on a project basis and was in charge of contracts, procurement, cost and document control. He was also involved in implementing safety requirements, which included attending daily “toolbox” meetings, half-hour meetings held each morning to discuss, train employees, and resolve safety issues.
When oil prices started to plummet in early 2015, Mehdi decided to move to the Toronto area to look for a new job. “From my work with Pacer Promec Corporation at the construction site, I realized the value and importance of Occupational Safety and Health firsthand.”
Mehdi put his time to good use. Before launching into a job search, he took a hard look at his resume and realized that health and safety education could be an asset to his future career. “I’ve had a wide variety of experiences in engineering and construction. I knew if a potential employer were considering me for a project manager position, adding credentials in the OSH field would clearly advance my chances for future opportunities, especially with a certificate from a highly reputable university like the University of Connecticut.”
Mehdi began the Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in the fall of 2016, taking one course to start. The second semester he took three courses, then one final course the following semester to finish the 15-credit program in May 2017. To say the coursework was challenging is an understatement, says Mehdi. “The UConn program was more substantive than most of the professional development trainings, but less onerous and time-consuming than a full degree program,” he notes.
Mehdi adds that the UConn Occupational and Health program is well designed, which made the learning experience smooth and enjoyable. Although the professors had different requirements for their courses, each course was structured with weekly modules, with each module divided into multiple safety sub-topics. For the weekly discussions, each student was asked to lead the discussion on one of the topics. To ensure that all topics were discussed, the instructor allowed a maximum of three students to discuss the same topic, but they could comment on all topics if they wanted to. Says Mehdi: “That way we were exposed to all of the topics. As I look back, I realize that those weekly modules, each with multiple topics, could have been a course in itself! I like the fact that each course was covering many sub-topics in health and safety. I sure got my money’s worth!”
For Mehdi, such in-depth training provided a big advantage. “The topics included in each course were very specific and covered the majority of aspects of health and safety issues. With my past construction and engineering project experience, I was able to easily relate to the subject matter. Now, having the OSH certificate on my resume is giving me the opportunity to apply for a wider range of positions. It’s filled the gap on my resume created from not having had a specific OSH-related position.”
Throughout the program, Mehdi says he found the professors very helpful in terms of responding to questions. “That made it easy for me to be in an online program. When I needed help, the instructors were right there, just an email or call away. Their continuous support made the learning experience very smooth, enjoyable and rewarding. Great program!”
His advice to anyone considering the program? “I had the benefit of being able to totally focus on getting the certificate by taking three courses in one semester. But if you are working, you might want to take just one course at a time each semester. And if you are concerned that an online credential isn’t the same as earning credits on campus, don’t be. Ivy League schools all across the U.S. offer online programs. At the end of the day, the certificate is from UConn. It’s not only an online credential—it’s a UConn credential, and that means a well-designed and planned online program that will suit your educational needs.” And adds Mehdi, “I’ve already had several interviews, which I credit in part to my having the UConn credential on my resume.”
“Theory is great, but most of what we learned in the program is applicable to what I do every day. I don’t know if I could have bridged the gap from industrial mechanic to safety professional without having gained all of the knowledge and skills from UConn’s Occupational Safety and Health program.” — Stephanie Cowan, Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, Spring 2018
Every day, Stephanie Cowan uses the skills she acquired
from UConn’s Occupational Safety and Health program at
her job with Safe Workforce Development, a division of
IMI Industrial Services Group.
Bridging the Gap
Stephanie Cowan received a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, specializing in metalsmithing, which opened the doors to her becoming an industrial mechanic. But when her company’s safety program inspired her to want to become a full-time safety professional, she knew she needed a way to bridge the gap. How would she make the transition? Online, through the University of Connecticut’s Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program.
It’s not easy making a living being a jeweler, especially right out of college—and especially if your passion is making three-dimensional pieces like boxes, silverware, and furniture, instead of traditional jewelry. At least, that’s what Stephanie Cowan found.
With her Bachelor of Art’s from the University of Georgia—and her skills in metalsmithing—Stephanie knew she’d need to do something to pay her bills. But what?
“I got into industrial mechanical work and found that I really liked it,” says Stephanie, who graduated from college in 2005. She worked for two different companies, installing piping, air, and water systems, completing precision alignment of equipment, as well as fabricating structural components. When her employer went out of business in 2009, Stephanie worked in the same field for a temp agency. “It was unusual for a woman to be on the job site. Often, our clients weren’t quite sure what they wanted me to do. So they’d ask me to check on safety,” recalls Stephanie.
Finding her niche
That’s where she found her niche; specifically, Stephanie loved the idea of motivating people to work safely. “You really had to understand the psychology behind why people don’t adhere to safety standards. I was definitely thinking of becoming a safety professional at that point.”
By 2013, Stephanie was working full time for IMI, which is located in Watkinsville, GA. “I was inspired by IMI’s safety program, which the company took very seriously. I wanted to get involved, but I knew IMI already had three full-time safety professionals. I realized I had to bulk up my credentials to show that I was serious.”
Of course, working full time left little time to get a master’s degree. So Stephanie realized that she’d need to take courses online, but they would have to be specific to safety. After some research, she discovered the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program.
UConn took the time
“I was worried that I wouldn’t be accepted because my undergraduate degree was in fine arts. So I applied to another program at a different university as well,” notes Stephanie, who adds: “UConn got back to me immediately and answered all of my questions, while the other school never even responded. I also really liked that there were course descriptions on the website, so you’d know what you’d be learning about. And I was bowled over when Paul Bureau, the program’s director, talked with me about the program for two hours. I unloaded all my questions, and he was so nice and helpful.”
Stephanie started the program in the spring of 2016. She absolutely loved AH 3173 – Psychology of Workplace Safety, which she describes as “fascinating.” As she recalls, “So much of safety is about making employees understand why it is important, and helping motivate certain behaviors so that they become automatic.”
She also thought the professors were “incredibly knowledgeable,” she says and adds: “I couldn’t be more pleased with the professors. They really put the time in to provide an informative, thought-provoking experience.”
Getting to know the other students
According to Stephanie, the discussion boards were another big benefit of the program. While students didn’t actually talk to one another, the program was, in her words, “very, very interactive. There was a big emphasis on providing feedback to the other students. As a result, there was so much back and forth that I got to the point where I would recognize individual people by their writing styles and personal experiences.” Stephanie also knows that if she hadn’t been able to participate on her own time, she would never have been able to complete the coursework. She visited job sites all over Georgia, often driving 2.5 hours each day, turning an 8-hour job into 12-plus hours.
In 2016, Stephanie moved over to the safety side of IMI, accepting a position with Safe Workforce Development. Now a full-time safety professional with IMI, Stephanie conducts hazard assessments and training for the company’s clients. Every day on the job, Stephanie finds that she draws upon the information she gained from the program, especially what she learned about safety leadership, risk management, and OSHA standards. In fact, she is typically one of the people, along with her manager, who IMI looks to when it needs a safety professional to conduct training on OSHA best practices.
Resident expert in ergonomics
She is also their resident “expert” in ergonomics thanks to having taken the elective AH 3574 – Ergonomics. As she recalls, Stephanie was surprised at how much is involved in ergonomics in the workplace. “Most construction guys think you just need to stretch a bit in the morning before work. But after taking the course, I realized how much is involved with keeping workers safe on the job site,” says Stephanie, who is now in the process of planning a training program in ergonomics for her clients. “I also learned the importance of getting injured workers recuperated quickly and back to work as soon as possible, even if it’s just in a limited capacity. The faster you can get someone back to work, the less time they are sitting at home on the couch feeling depressed.”
What does she tell people who express interest in participating in the UConn program? “I tell everyone how much they would get out of the program. It was very well rounded, and each of the courses, including the electives I took, was fascinating. Theory is great, but most of what we learned in the program is applicable to what I do every day. I don’t know if I could have bridged the gap from industrial mechanic to safety professional without having gained all of the knowledge and skills from UConn’s Occupational Safety and Health program.”