This past May, hundreds of engineering students from West Virginia University walked across the stage in the WVU Coliseum to receive their diplomas. Included in that group were the first graduates of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources online program in safety management.
“There were 22 full-time students in the first online class,” said Jenny Fuller, safety management teaching instructor. “We had many working professionals express a desire to pursue a safety management degree at WVU, but due to other obligations, geography, work, family, etc., they were unable to come to Morgantown and commit the time needed to achieve that goal. With the online program, students can take classes anywhere in the world and still balance families, careers and life in general.”
Two of the graduates – David McMillan and Alex Stokes – chose the program because of its flexibility and the opportunities they felt it could offer them upon completion.
McMillan, a native of Dawson, is a major with the West Virginia Army National Guard and a sergeant with the West Virginia State Police. When looking at graduate programs, he leaned toward safety programs since both the military and law enforcement are safety-conscious organizations.
“I have always wanted to be a graduate of WVU and their online safety program fit my time-constrained schedule,” McMillan said. “I knew of other students in the program and leveraged their experiences to make my decision.”
The program turned out to be a perfect fit for McMillan, who is preparing himself for employment once he retires from his current positions. He has served in the Army for 24 years and with the State Police for 20.
“With any program you will find courses that are more demanding than others and some of the classes were very demanding in my opinion,” McMillan said. “I feel like I learned a lot from the program and I was able to network with other students.
“I feel honored to be a graduate of West Virginia University. I would recommend this course for anyone that is looking for a graduate safety degree program. I was able to maintain two jobs, a family and this rewarding experience.”
“We designed the program to be military friendly,” said Fuller. “We give hour-for-hour credit for applicable safety-related undergraduate-level military training. Military-trained safety management grads are extremely marketable because of their experience, responsibility and maturity of judgment.”
A resident of Auburn, Alabama, Stokes discovered the program through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals online education search tool. An environmental health and safety engineer, he decided to enroll at WVU knowing that the degree could lead him to a Graduate Safety Practitioner designation.
“The curriculum was all directly related to the job tasks I am involved in now with my current company so I was able to learn more specific details about a variety of topics that I deal with throughout the year,” Stokes said. “As a result, I have a much deeper understanding of the main principles of effective safety management practices.
“I was overall very satisfied with the program; you can complete it as slow or as fast as you would like to,” Stokes continued. “For me, having the flexibility was important since I am already working a full-time job and I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. I have a few connections who are in the same field and upon talking to them I have recommended the program if higher education is on their radar.”
Not only did Stokes earn the GSP designation, it also led to a salary increase from his current employer.
“The rising generation of young professionals seems driven to achieve advanced degrees and certifications for upward career mobility, but because they are a bit older than the on-campus cohort and busy with the demands of work and family life, they don’t have time to attend a bricks-and-mortar institution,” said Gary Winn , professor and coordinator of occupational safety and health. “We purposely created this program to fit that career and lifestyle path.
“We are the only MS safety program associated with an engineering college, and the only one that does not require summer visits,” Winn continued. “Almost universally, these students are self-motivated and they ask very little of full-time faculty. After two years, and based on feedback from grads like David and Alex, I can say that this program is a certified home run.”