From Fire Department to NASA, Emergency Management Student Gains ‘Competitive Edge’ in Online Master’s

“I wish that something like this had existed 30 years ago,” says online MS in Emergency Management (MSEM) student Ian Pinkham.

Pursuing a master’s degree is no small feat, and the challenge becomes more amplified when navigating the demands of a 60-hour work week and the responsibilities that come with being a single parent.

That was certainly the case for Ian Pinkham, who joined the Master of Science in Emergency Management (MSEM) online program at USC Bovard College in 2022. But while embarking on his graduate school journey was a slightly arduous process, it was also an immensely enriching experience.

As Pinkham told USC Online, he has taken a winding path throughout his educational ventures. In the ‘90s, he enrolled at California State University, Long Beach, majoring in American studies, but he left the university two classes short of completing his bachelor’s degree. The decision was motivated by an opportunity to join his dream field: emergency management.

“I always thought I’d be a firefighter, but then the possibility arose while I was at Cal State Long Beach …  so, I jumped in at that point in time,” he explained. “Of course, that meant I took a 20-year break from college.”

His college hiatus, however, proved to be a productive and career-defining decision. Starting off as an emergency services coordinator for the City of La Cañada Flintridge, Pinkham went on to work in a variety of emergency management roles for prominent entities such as Disneyland, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA.

Upon starting his position as the group supervisor for emergency and continuity management at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Pinkham realized it was time to return to school.

“I really wanted to have a chance to finish my education. I just had never gotten that opportunity,” he said. “I was always focused on other projects, but now it felt possible.”

That meant first returning to Cal State Long Beach to complete his bachelor’s degree — but his educational pursuits didn’t end there. After learning that USC had launched a new MS in Emergency Management program, he quickly applied, citing the fact that most universities don’t offer the advanced degree.

“Being a full-time professional who’s very busy and a single parent, [the online program] was the perfect blend for me … Plus, work would love for me to have a master’s so that I could continue to elevate my career,” Pinkham said.

Preparing professionals to take on leadership roles in the emergency management field, the MSEM online program helps students develop the skills and knowledge to advance at the local, state and federal level, as well as in the private sector. Courses include “Emergency Management Communication,” “Social and Cultural Competency in Emergency Management” and “Critical Decision-Making in Emergency Management,” among others.

The program, which can be completed on a one-year or two-year track, trains graduates to effectively respond to all types of disasters, protecting communities from natural and man-made hazards alike.

For Pinkham, set to graduate in May 2024, the program has proven to be incredibly beneficial to his professional growth.

“It’s validated my learning throughout the years and helped reinforce some best practices, as well as continuing to network and build relationships in the field, which is a cornerstone of emergency management,” Pinkham explained. “People are always open and accepting and so willing to reach out and help you make sure that you’re successful in the process.”

Being part of the Trojan Family and its far-reaching community has been especially rewarding for Pinkham, who learns just as much from the esteemed faculty as he does his fellow cohort members.

“My favorite part of the program is really connecting with everyone, hearing their experiences, having the opportunity to share and come up with new and better ideas together and get people excited in this career field,” he said. “I wish that something like this had existed 30 years ago.”

With graduation looming just a few months away, Pinkham is looking toward the future. While he aims to continue his career at NASA, he’s also envisioning the new heights he can reach with a master’s degree in hand.

“It [gives] me an additional competitive edge in progressing my career at work. I’m already in management, yes, but I hope 10 years from now, I will be higher in the executive management,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to prospective students who are considering the online MSEM, Pinkham was unwavering in his encouragement to pursue the program.

“All of the professors have been outstanding, and it’s been so great to hear the different perspectives and have an environment where people share honestly and openly. We get to make great progress together as a group,” he mused.

Yet, according to Pinkham, true success in the program hinges on a genuine commitment. Regardless of the challenges posed by a full-time job, family life or other personal and professional responsibilities, dedicating yourself to the program is necessary to reap the full benefits. That includes connecting with your peers and developing relationships with your professors outside of the classroom.

“You need to absolutely jump in with both feet. The most important thing you can do is fully engage yourself in the program. The more you do that, the easier it becomes,” Pinkham concluded.

Learn more about the online MS in Emergency Management program at USC Bovard College today.

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