Public safety officials collaborate with UNM-LA

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

A new associate degree program with a concentration in public safety is set to launch in the fall or spring semester at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.

The program evolved through a collaboration between UNM-LA and the Los Alamos Public Safety Association (LAPSA) to develop a pool of qualified applicants to fill a void in the public safety field in the local area.

LAPSA is comprised of officials from police, fire, SOC, and the emergency management divisions of Los Alamos County and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We recognized that all of these disciplines have trouble finding qualified employees,” LAPSA member Michael Wismer said. “We want to create an educated workforce right here in Los Alamos to fill these needs rather than conduct national searches. We decided to see if we could develop a program to educate and train local people.”

The Associate of Arts in liberal arts – for public safety professionals is designed for students entering the public safety professional field in areas of police work, fire safety, security and emergency management.

Wismer explained that key people within LAPSA initially approached Executive Director Cedric Page from UNM-LA with the idea. Page signed on and Wismer said the program began to take shape.

Wismer brought a broad insight to the collaboration process because of his position as group leader of Classified Matter Protection at LANL and his role as chairman of the UNM-LA Advisory Board.

“Mike Wismer did a wonderful job for us,” said Interim Dean of Instruction Kate Massengale who worked closely with Wismer in the program’s development. Input was obtained from across the public safety spectrum.

“We captured all of the needs of the various functions in one associate degree,” Wismer said. “Chief Wayne Torpy worked closely with us on this and provided valuable input.”

Torpy described the program as important to the community.

“We have a big workforce here between the county and the laboratory and this will be a great opportunity for people interested in this field to go to school right here in Los Alamos,” he said. “This is just the beginning of the kinds of programs that can be developed for the workforce we have here.”

Courses for the public safety concentration exist within the liberal arts degree program, Massengale said, so UNM-LA doesn’t have to do any specialized curriculum development. She explained that the program start date will be determined by when the University of New Mexico main campus completes its required paperwork processing.

Massengale noted that besides the standard New Mexico General Education Core required of most degrees, this program starts with Sociology 101 and Psychology 105. But the real concentration for the public safety program is currently housed in the “general electives” area, which are the meat to a liberal arts degree, she said, and in this case, are already chosen to concentrate in areas relevant to public safety.

Key aspects of this degree, Massengale said, remain in an understanding of society (sociology), of human beings (psychology), of communication skills (technical writing and communication, and journalism), and political realities (political science).

Also, the Computing for Business course required in the program addresses the computer literacy needed in today’s workplace, she said, and the sciences chosen make the most sense for public safety backgrounds as they are concerned with or work in conjunction with biologicals and chemicals forensically as a cleanup and safety issue in fires, spills, crime scene work and similar activities.

The public safety concentration courses include Crime, Public Policy and the Criminal Justice System; Social Problems; Deviance; Introduction to Research Methods; Statistical Principles; and Social Psychology.

“The professionals wanted students to have choices, so the list under general electives is pre-selected, but there remain choices for students to find a range of courses that might interest them or fit their schedules,” Massengale said.

Specific program requirements include a minimum of 66 credit hours with a minimum grade average of 2.0, with at least 15 hours from UNM-LA catalog credit courses.

For information, contact Student Services at 662-0332 or access www.la.unm.edu/SSC/studentservices.html.