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MCC Environmental Health and Safety Program

Environmental Health & Safety Success Stories

Army Veteran changes course with MCC

Joseph Smith loved the Army so much that he expected to make it a career after graduating from Stillwater High School in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, an injury while serving as a paratrooper changed his course.

“I was in the Army for two-and-a-half years and just absolutely loved it,” said Smith, a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. “It was complete culture shock for a teenage boy from Oklahoma, but I learned to listen to my fellow soldiers, my brothers, it soaked in, and those experiences turned me into the person I am today.

“I would have stayed there until I retired, but had to take a medical discharge after the injury to my hips.”

Smith, 44, tried numerous jobs after the military, ranging from driving for RoadRunner Road Service to working as a welder in Kansas City. It was during his stint as a welder that Smith found a career path in environmental health and safety science.

“While I was working as a welder, I had some experience in the safety field, some training, so they asked me to join a safety committee,” he said. “A few months later, I was running the safety committee. And that’s when I found out that I could go to school for it and that you can make a career out of it.”

Smith researched several schools before choosing Metropolitan Community College-Business  & Technology, largely because of his interactions with former program coordinator Sybil Chandler.

“My conversation with her about this field and MCC is what brought me here,” he said. “We had a good rapport. She's allowed me to set up equipment on off time, and I got to help the other students in class. I always felt like every session I went to, I learned something. I wasn't just coming here and flipping through books. You had to really work toward it and put in the effort.”

Smith's tireless work to jump-start his career paid off in 2013 when he not only received a certificate in environmental health and safety science, but also the program's Student of the Year Award at the campus awards ceremony.

“I was surprised; had no idea it was coming,” Smith said. “It wasn't something I was working toward. I didn't need pats on the back, but it was a really good feeling.”

Smith balanced his coursework with a job and family, crediting his wife Michelle for her support. After receiving his certificate, he worked as an environmental health and safety and human resources manager at PaperWorks Industries and team leader at Union Pacific Muncie Operations.

In June, Smith took another step forward in his career as a first-time supervisor for Traditional Logistics and Cartage, where he is responsible for inspections, among many other duties.

“It's important for us to celebrate our success stories like Joseph, who is another example of students who have changed their lives at MCC,” said Dr. Jackie Gill, president of MCC-Business & Technology. “We are thrilled that we provided him with an educational experience that fit his schedule and prepared him for his career. That opportunity is available to anybody who wants a quality academic experience.”

Smith credited MCC-Business & Technology for much of his success.

“In my experience, MCC has a very big heart when it comes to the students,” he said. “The professors take the time to get involved with the students. Anybody could benefit from attending MCC. It’s a great start that has value.

“When you start with nothing, and you come to one location, spend the time working, and the next thing you know you have a job making good money at a place you want to be, how can you not feel good about that?”


Alumna secures career with Environmental Health and Safety certificate

Amberlee O'Brien wants to be an environmental scientist some day. One year after earning a Specialist in Safety and Health certificate at Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology, her goal is within reach.

O'Brien, who received the certificate in May 2015, works as an environmental technician for Terracon, which provides engineering and testing services for construction, environmental and industrial projects.

“I have always liked the environment, and I've always like science,” O’Brien said. “When I was interested in going to school, I looked around quite a bit. The environmental program is what caught my eye.”

O'Brien is an environmental technician for Terracon, where she works as an air monitor for asbestos projects, inspections on biding projects and samples groundwater.

O'Brien currently is working on a major maintenance project.

“I like what I’m doing a lot now and hope to do more,” she said. “When I do go back to school to work toward being an environmental scientist, I plan on going to MCC.”

O'Brien, 27, grew up in Idaho before moving to Kansas City with husband Jake. She began researching colleges in 2012 and started taking courses at MCC-Business & Technology shortly after reading about the Environmental Health and Safety program on the MCC website.

She said the coursework at MCC-Business & Technology prepared her for career at Terracon.

“What I enjoyed about my time there was that it was very detailed; I felt like I was really prepared,” O’Brien said. “I loved the hands-on work. I knew what I’d be working on in the field and how to use the equipment.

“I also really enjoyed the guest speakers we had in our classes. I learned a lot from all the different speakers we had.”

O'Brien said she has used what she learned in the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) and instructor Michael McMenus' classes extensively.

“I felt like my education was what my employer was looking for, especially the HAZWOPER training,” she said.