The University of Central Florida Emergency Management and Homeland Security program offers minors, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and its students are filling the ranks of area emergency management professionals.
The emergency management profession has grown and evolved in recent years, and the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) emergency management and homeland security programs have evolved right along with it.
The university first began offering a minor in emergency management and homeland security in 2003, then added a graduate certificate, and just last year added bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
With a dedicated internship program and rigorous preparation for graduates of the programs, former students now dot the landscape of emergency management professionals. Former students have gone on to work at the American Red Cross, Lockheed Martin, the Orlando International Airport and local government emergency management offices.
“The University of South Florida emergency manager is an alum, the Lockheed Martin crisis management leader is an alum,” said Claire Knox, emergency management and homeland security program director at UCF. “One of our students just got a full, paid internship from Boeing in North Carolina.”
Knox said UCF students end up in the nonprofit, public and private sectors, make a name for themselves and come back and help the program with internships and guidance for future emergency management professionals. “It’s an exciting and fulfilling part of the job as program director and faculty to see your students grow and take off and become the professionals they can be,” she said.
Knox said the homeland security and emergency management minor proved to be one of the most popular on campus, and almost 400 students have earned the minor and the graduate certificate. That, combined with the propensity of the state to suffer from natural and manmade disasters, made offering the degree programs a no-brainer.
“Florida felt Hurricane Andrew [in 1992] and became a lot more professional afterward, and we see people from other states and other countries come here to learn how to do emergency management,” Knox said. “So it behooved us to take advantage of all the factors and create a pretty outstanding management program.”
The emergency management profession used to be a next step for retiring or retired military, law enforcement and fire professionals, but that’s changing. “We’re beginning to see a shift in the demographics,” said Abdul-Akeem Sadiq, associate professor in the College of Community Innovation and Education at UCF. “We’re seeing more African Americans and more Hispanics going into the profession, and more women.”
Knox said a degree in emergency management is now preferred in the field, and experience is vital. That’s why the UCF programs require students to fulfill an internship requirement. The internship requirement is waived if the student has two or more years of experience. The program was one of the first UCF programs to allow internships to count toward credit for a degree.
“It was something the profession was demanding, and we brought it to UCF’s attention,” Knox said. In 2013, Knox created an advisory board of practitioners of every level of government and every sector to advise her and to help guide the program.
The board helps provide hands-on experiences for the students, such as conducting a functional exercise in a local EOC. “The students create the exercise, design it, facilitate it and do an after-action report, and it’s a capstone experience in the class,” Knox said. “So, the whole semester you’re learning about these different things and then you’re actually getting the hands-on experience.”
The local emergency managers who are part of the board open all of their trainings to the students, allowing them to participate and fill a number of roles, whether it’s a table-top or full-scale exercise. Board members also take part in resume preparation and round-robin mock interviews. “It’s brutal,” Knox said. “I don’t think they realize what they’re walking into.”