Is It Possible for Volunteerism to Improve Your Career?

By Tina M. Bynum, M.P.A., Program Chair for Security Studies

CTU Professional Development - VolunteerismIn my position as program chair for security studies, students often ask me questions about getting that first job after graduation.  After all, completion of the degree program is the next step in a process that will hopefully lead to a rewarding career.  For those interested in a career in law enforcement or homeland security, I cannot overstate the value of volunteer work. 

The Volunteer Advantage

Those who engage in volunteer work gain valuable experience that prospective employers are looking for.  They also develop a network of professionals in the field, something that is very helpful when searching for that first job.  And perhaps most importantly, those who volunteer demonstrate a commitment to their community that speaks volumes about a person’s character.  I would encourage all in this field to make volunteer work a part of their lives, not only during school but also in their professional careers.  I, too, engage in volunteer work as a part of my career.  I find it rewarding, and it keeps me apprised of the ever-changing nature of the job.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…Pick a Different Job

The summer of 2013 in Colorado Springs started as predicted: hot and dry. Very dry. Accordingly, the emergency-management community was gearing up for another high fire danger season and adding a high flood danger into the mix because of the burn scar region of last year’s Waldo Canyon fire.  As fate would have it, not yet one full year after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire, the Colorado Springs community was up against its next fire disaster in the Black Forest, where the fire was of such magnitude that it moved the Waldo Canyon fire into second place as the most destructive in our city’s history.

Not only was the fire in the Black Forest a major concern for the Colorado emergency-management forces, it was also eerily reminiscent of the wildfires of 2002, in that it was large and significantly destructive.  In 2002, Colorado had several major fires burning which took virtually every resource the state could muster. Within the last year, the community faced another series of fires that would tax its resources. As a result, I was once again called to assist. Having volunteered for the fires during the past few years, as well as participating in several emergency-preparedness exercises, I needed to step up and do my part to help with the Black Forest fire. Just as with the Waldo Canyon fire, I responded to the County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) the night the Black Forest fire required all hands on deck, and from there I was bound to the needs of the community for the next three days.

The Value of Volunteering

My story is not unique. Many came out to volunteer in whatever way they could. Every position was important, and no function was too small. Once again, many members working in the EOC were under evacuation themselves. Many were uncertain whether or not they would have a home standing after they’d answered their call of duty, but they were steadfast in their commitment to support the needs of the community. Some of my most rewarding experiences, and those that I can offer as real-world examples to serve the students of CTU, come from my continued work in the community as a volunteer.
Only three weeks before the Black Forest fire broke out, Dr. Lizabeth Jordan, director of Emergency Services from the Pikes Peak American Red Cross, lectured on the lessons learned from the Waldo Canyon fire, and together, she and I issued a call to action to volunteer. My strongest advocacy for my students in the criminal justice and homeland security programs is to volunteer. This lecture served as an opportunity to provide the community with fresh support from the student population of CTU. They didn’t have to wait long. The fire came, and many of us from CTU were there.

I want to encourage all students to consider volunteer work as an integral part of the educational experience.  I am confident that those who do so will find the rewards of volunteering far exceed the demands on their time.  There are many opportunities to get involved, and I am happy to be a part of a team at CTU that plays an integral role in helping students find those opportunities.

CTU Program Chair - Tina BynumTina M. Bynum, M.P.A., is the program chair for Security Studies at CTU. As a retired firefighter/EMT, she now volunteers with local emergency-management officials to develop and conduct exercises and respond to major emergencies in Emergency Operations Centers. In her role with CTU, she serves as a mentor to faculty, staff and students; and she teaches courses in the fields of public safety, criminal justice and homeland security. Professor Bynum serves on the editorial review board of the “Journal for Homeland Security Education” and is a co-editor of “The United States Department of Homeland Security:

Image Credit: Flickr/Sascha Grant