Interview with Darren Linker, Director of the Occupational Health & Safety Degree Program at Pierce College and Edmonds Community College

How are your students coping with the change? How are you coping?

Darren Linker: The biggest impact for me is the adjustment to working from home, and the challenge of trying to work with all the different college administrative departments to solve problems when they are all working from home as well, and trying to figure out how to carry out college procedures. In terms of the students in the OSH program, they are feeling the impact in different ways. Currently it is having the most impact on students who were scheduled to take their internship during the last quarters of their program. Since all employers are either shut down or working from home, that makes an internship not even a remote possibility. This is preventing the students from graduating with real-world hands-on experience in their new career field.

Have any students expressed that they may not have the resources at home, such as computer/Internet access to help them complete their schoolwork?

Darren Linker: At the other end of the student spectrum are our brand-new students. For those who are entering the program with limited computer, writing or math skills working in a fully online environment is not working for them. In these cases, I am being asked by vocational councilors to redo plans and delay their enrollment so that they start sometime next year, hopefully after there are some form of in-person class options available.
For the rest of our students who were trying not to take their general education classes such as math, chemistry or public speaking online, they are now required to do so. Since we are already an online program, I have not heard from any students who have had access issues. The bigger challenge is having to work from home when your kids are also around all the time, making it harder to focus.

Due to the pandemic, do you see Occupational Health and Safety being an even more essential profession?

Darren Linker: In terms of the relationship of the pandemic to the OSH field, I think a strong connection. Particularly when it comes to the science of trying to prevent exposures to healthcare workers. This is especially true when it comes to the appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), potential contamination and exposures from using the wrong types of PPE and room ventilation systems in hospitals to name just a few of the issues.

Where does education go from here in terms of online and grounded courses, along with making sure students are provided with the resources need to so they succeed in their classes/programs?

Darren Linker: In terms of where we can go with this in the future that is a good question. At this point in time, we just need to get our students to succeed and make it through the next two quarters. The best thing would probably be to incorporate OSH topics and concepts systemically in all professional and technical programs so that it is not a stand-alone topic and the students can see the direct relationship to their careers and fields of study.