• MHCC’s Sustainability, Health and Safety Program Prepares Students for In-Demand Jobs

    A new report titled “The State of Safety,” from the nonprofit National Safety Council, ranks Oregon and Washington among the seven U.S. states with the best track records in workplace safety. Both states received high marks for establishing workplace anti-smoking laws, providing state and local government employee OSHA coverage, and requiring employer health and safety programs.

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    Emily Crews, a 2014 graduate of the SHS program, now
    works as a site safety manager for Fortis Construction.
    She serves on job sites throughout the Portland metro
    area, including at Reynolds Middle School in Fairview.

    This focus on workplace safety and worker health means good news for statewide workers, but also for professionals in the occupational and environmental health and safety field. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated an average or above-average growth rate in the number of nationwide jobs over a 10-year period (2014-24) for three types of health and safety positions: occupational health and safety technicians, health and safety engineers and environmental scientists and specialists.

    The Sustainability, Health and Safety (SHS) program at Mt. Hood Community College prepares graduates for entry-level, in-demand occupational health and safety jobs within a wide range of industries. Students in the SHS program can choose from a one-year stackable certificate; an Associate of Applied Science degree; or a transfer degree in environmental sciences and management, with focuses in either environmental sciences or environmental studies. All four curriculums require high school-level training in math and chemistry.

    The Sustainability, Health and Safety Program at MHCC

    The two-year, six-term SHS program at MHCC prepares students for the workplace through a combination of lectures; class projects; site visits; and a required, paid internship. The curriculum is geared towards high school graduates, professionals wanting to switch careers, and occupational health and safety workers seeking to update their skillsets and advance in their existing careers. Transfer students can choose from a number of four-year schools offering Bachelor of Science degrees in different environmental fields.

    The SHS program emphasizes training for three disciplines or roles with overlapping skillsets. They include the environmental technician or manager, who works on compliance issues and pollution control as they relate to water, soil and air. The plant safety/health officer, who addresses workplace health and employee safety. And the hazardous materials technician or manager, a role that provides oversight on the proper handling and transport of toxic or dangerous materials. In addition, graduates from the two-year degree programs also earn two industry-required certifications: OSHA 30-Hour for Construction and General Industry and HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) 40-Hour.

    According to Dr. Javid Mohtasham, SHS program director and advisor, students who move directly into internships – either while in the program or after graduating from it – make a minimum of $15 an hour. Internships offer on-the-job training in environmental health, occupational health and safety, sustainability and/or hazardous materials management. Students intern with many of the Portland area’s leading employers, among them Metro, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon OSHA, Vestas, Intel and Northwest Natural.

    “The beauty of the program is that it gives you plenty of job options,” said Mohtasham. “You can work in environmental safety, sustainability, hazardous materials management, industrial or construction safety – in fact there’s almost no industry or business field in which occupational health and safety workers don’t work.”

    Mohtasham began teaching the SHS program at MHCC in 1993. Over the years, the program name has changed and evolved to reflect industry demand, as has the course offerings. However, the focus remains much the same: preparing professionals to help manage and eliminate risk at public, private and nonprofit organizations.

    “Anywhere you look, you’ll find occupational or environmental health workers,” he added, pointing out that any organization that clocks more than 20,000 hours of employee work per year in the United States is required by law to have an environmental, health and safety (EHS) officer.

    “Occupational health and safety professionals not only work at organizations throughout the country, but also around the world, making the opportunities nearly endless for our graduates,” said Mohtasham.

    SHS Graduates: Where Are They Now?

    Upon completing their internships and earning their degrees, graduates of the SHS program at MHCC that enter the workforce fulltime typically make at least $50,000 a year, said Mohtasham. You can find graduates of MHCC’s SHS program in a wide range of roles and organizations, including as senior compliance officers at state and federal OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency offices and as EHS officers with private construction corporations and other types of businesses.

    Chelsea Althauser, a hazardous waste technician with Metro Regional Government, didn’t have an academic program in mind when she began investigating classes at MHCC. However, after sitting in on a SHS course taught by Dr. Mohtasham, she decided this was a route she wanted to pursue. She was almost immediately paired with a paid internship at Metro upon joining the program. She remained with the agency as a temporary employee until graduating with her SHS degree in 2006, when she was hired on fulltime at Metro. Althauser credits Dr. Mohtasham as one of the main reasons she was able to succeed in the program and to quickly find work.

    “Dr. Mohtasham has one goal in mind: to help his students find a career,” she said. “He goes above and beyond to do so. Additionally, the program is perfectly sized so he has enough time and resources to give his students individual attention and support.”

    Holt Andron, an occupational safety consultant with Oregon OSHA, graduated from the SHS program at MHCC in 2017. He credits the general knowledge he gained through the program as thorough enough that it prepared him to advance his education.

    “The program’s curriculum is appropriately broad and rigorous,” said Andron. “And in March of this year, I became a Certified Safety Professional; I attribute this achievement in large part to what I learned at MHCC.”

    Several MHCC SHS graduates work for Oregon OSHA, in positions like senior occupational consultant and operations and policy analyst. Michael Wood, administrator of Oregon OSHA, praised the caliber of these graduates and recognized the industry need for increased occupational health and safety training centers, like that available at MHCC.

    “MHCC’s program offers a unique opportunity to provide safety and health professionals who are both skilled and marketable, particularly with its broadened emphasis on sustainability,” said Wood. “As the only program of its kind in the Portland metropolitan area, and one of only a few such programs in the region and around the country, MHCC’s SHS program is a valuable resource to the continued efforts of all of us working to make Oregon a safer place to live and work.”

    The SHS program at MHCC accepts 8 to 12 new students each Fall Term. You can learn more about the curriculum, class schedule and coursework at mhcc.edu/SHS

    In Demand 002
    Crews (far left) works with contractors to provide safety training and to keep them safe while on the job.
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    Holt Andron serves as a safety consultant for Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
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    Chelsea Althauser (center) gets suited up for work at the Metro South transfer station in Oregon City.