Inside Look at Careers in Public Safety Leadership featuring Rebecca Himes

May is Public Safety month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s public safety experts to examine career and industry trends, and provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

Rebecca HimesRecently, UMUC Adjunct Public Safety Faculty Rebecca Himes answered questions about career trends and opportunities in public safety and emergency management services. Himes is a Public Safety Administration, Emergency Management, Fire Science Administration, and Homeland Security adjunct associate professor for the School of Undergraduate Studies at University of Maryland University College. She is a member of UMUC’s curriculum development team for the Introduction to Homeland Security, Emergency Services Training and Education, Public Safety Policies Leadership, and Social Dimensions of Disaster courses. Himes is also teaches UMUC’s Public Safety Administration capstone course, Public Safety Issues and Challenges, which includes identifying and analyzing problems to implement change. She is also a lead instructor for the Public Safety Administration course, Contemporary Public Safety Practices, which includes risk management, customer service, quality assurance and integrated public services. Himes is a lead instructor for the Introduction to Homeland Security course, served as a mentor for new UMUC faculty members, and is an instructor for the Cooperative Education Course (COOP) for students in the Emergency Management major (internship project). Additionally, Himes has dedicated her career to developing and overseeing curriculum and assessments for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, and began her career as an active firefighter and EMT.

 Q. You have dedicated your career to the professional development and training of public safety personnel within many facets of this sector to include emergency management, fire science administration and homeland security. What are some of the trends today that are enhancing educational experiences within the classroom?

A. One of the trends today that enhance the educational experiences within the classroom is active and collaborate based learning. This includes project and problem based learning assignments, group work, and assessments. The advantage of this type of learning is that it engages the student and provides real-life experiences that mimic what job requirements will require. This competency based learning allows employers to provide feedback to colleges on what skills and knowledge they require in the field of study to match the duties in their businesses.  This determines what the student should do and learn, and what assessments confirm this.

Another trend is online or in person interaction with those in the field.  This discussion can include providing in-depth analysis of the subject being taught, and also provide information on the person’s job and employment in the field of study.

A continuing trend is the increased use of technology including Cloud computing and mobile learning.  This allows for students and instructors to research and collaborate using research material and delivery tools for project based learning.  There will be more student created content – presentations, animations, digitalized content which enhances the trend as identified before – active learning.

All of these trends require critical thinking and writing skills that must be established at an early stage in the educational process to ensure success at the end.

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in public safety administration emphasizing on emergency management, fire science administration, and homeland security?

A. There are many career paths for students graduating with a degree in public safety administration, with, and emphasis on one of these minors. No matter which minor the student chooses, the Department of Homeland Security has many career paths.  This large department within the federal government has sections that include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Transportation and Security Administration, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and Emergency Management Institute (EMI), and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to name a few.  For those desiring to work in an emergency management agency, these can be found in each state and local government.  Many employers, like hospitals, factories, colleges, retailers, etc. have positions or departments that handle emergency management functions.  Fire science majors will find that a bachelor’s degree provides a step up in the promotion process within a fire and rescue department.  The important thing is to network – attend symposiums, conferences; take professional development courses; talk to others in related fields.  UMUC provides career services to help students select and move into jobs after college.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in public safety administration? How did you begin your career?

A. I, like many students, didn’t know what career path I wanted when I went to college. After several missteps, I found I was still in limbo by my junior year. At that point I had to make some decision so I focused on art with an emphasis on photography.  I obtained an internship at a local newspaper to write about and photograph fires, crashes, hazmat incidents, and even an Airforce jet crash that even today makes me shiver.  I was fascinated by the interplay of fire and rescue personnel and that on a fire scene, everyone worked together with a set plan and organizational structure. I joined a local fire department, and served in a management role on the board of directors for a number of years also serving as a firefighter, EMT, and rescuer.  The internship ended and the paper hired me full-time. 

From that experience, and my role in my fire department, I was hired by the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI).  After serving as an editor for its publications, I was awarded a management position to oversee curriculum development.  This job involved developing all MFRI statewide courses from firefighting, to fire officer, to disaster training. 

After attending conference on technology and homeland security, I found I was at the cusp of new career path.  I was excited to start work with UMUC to develop the homeland security curriculum.  Because of my rounded knowledge I was able to work on various other projects for homeland security and when the PSA program was approved, was able to move into creating and developing courses for this degree path.

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?

A. At the time I entered the fire and rescue service as a volunteer and my position at the University of Maryland, I was a minority in a male dominated field. This helped shape my future as I had to prove to others that I was a competent worker and then an outstanding leader.  Because of my competence, and empathy for others, I was able to move up within each organization.  Since I had to support my degree with student loans, work study, and scholarships, I appreciated the education I received.  This love of knowledge led me to numerous degrees that I completed part-time over many years.  In my teaching I try to instill this in my students and spend a lot of time with the knowledge components of each subject, but also life skills including writing and presenting.  My experience working with a number of fire and rescue groups outside my organization, in both membership and leadership positions, enhanced my ability to be a better employer and teacher. 

Q. What personality and character traits must public safety professionals possess?

A. Public safety is a stressful job – decisions must be made quickly and many lives can rest on those decisions. Each job carries a high level of responsibility that must be dealt with in a professional and confident manner. Select public safety courses discusses risk management – responsibility to determine risks at all levels and therefore ensure safety for others on an emergency scene.  One of the most stressful situations is when there is an incident of such magnitude that it can overwhelm the most seasoned public safety professional.  Events like Hurricane Katrina, and in my case, the crash of the Air Force jet, make it important to focus on the task and not on the immediate situation just taking place.

Another stressful part of being a public safety professional is the management and dealing with personnel – this could be in a volunteer or career fire service position or in emergency management such as coordinating the response and resources needed for a major disaster.  Communication, confidence and professionalism are again essential for this major part of any organization.

Training provides guidance on how to react in an emergency situation.  For instance at the Boston bombing, responders relied on training to focus on what must be done and officers relied on training and resources such as ICS, NIMS, and a set of plans that assist on dealing with an event.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering this field?

A. Internships are one of the best avenues for gaining experience in this industry. These range from federal agencies like the FEMA and the USFA to associations like the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Certifications are important in this field.  There are many that apply to each level of fire, rescue, emergency management and homeland security. 

High achievers will invoke an invite for membership in honor societies such as UMUC’s Alpha Sigma Lambda and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.  These look good on a resume. 

Join professional organizations and attend their events.  Some are the Red Cross, CERT teams, and FEMA’s Regional Disaster Reservist Program.  FEMA also has an EM Higher Education Associates Program that provides internships at the EMI campus (at the NETC) on specific projects or research.

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in public safety administration, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing in their current organization and within the field?

A. There are many avenues to enhance your knowledge and credentials to advance in an organization or within the field. This year I am working on my Certificate in Homeland Security Management through UMUC. There are other degree programs that provide for higher level learning. Another suggestion is to expand knowledge outside of a degree and job.  Research what is in demand and what will be in demand. Right now cybersecurity is hot topic and one that provides another avenue for a good paying, and demanding job.  If this is of interest, then focus on this aspect – there are many masters programs at UMUC that relate to cyber.  Check out programs such as UMUC’s Leadership and Management Certificate at UMUC and other venues. The National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP) certification Specialist in Emergency Management (SEM) is one.

Be willing to enhance learning through professional development opportunities – IAFC, FEMA courses. National Volunteer Fire Council,   American Board for Certification in Homeland Security – areas for this certification include emergency management, firefighting, public safety and security to name a few.  

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni currently working or entering public safety administration?

A. Develop or enhance strong writing and communication skills. Investigate your career choices and what skills and knowledge is needed. Look at advancing your career with supplemental college, certificate programs and inclusion in organizations that apply to your field.  Don’t be afraid to reach outside the box and try something different, especially if there an upcoming trend in the field that interests you.   Finally – be positive!

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she represents.

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