SCENE: Fade into a graduation ceremony at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
Leslie Chandler, a communications major in attendance as a member of the Cardinal Key Honor Society to escort the graduates, sits next to a graduate named Jonathan. He is capped, gowned and ready to receive his Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health degree.
LESLIE: So what do you guys actually do? I always heard safety was an easy degree. Is that true? What are you going to do after you graduate?
JONATHAN: No, that's not the case at all. I actually already have a job.
That script is not really from a movie, although that chance conversation between two strangers made a blockbuster impact.
"Jonathan told me how much he was going to be making an impact on the field, where he was going to be living, the specifics around the safety program and what all it entailed," Chandler said. "That one discussion was really a pivoting point in my life. He convinced me to pursue a degree in occupational safety and health, so after a little more research I put my communications degree on hold, one semester before graduation."
Chandler graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health in December of 2010. The following summer, she also completed the Bachelor of Science in Communications. Now, Chandler is an environment of care and emergency management manager for Baylor Scott & White Health in Frisco and Rowlett, Texas.
"It happened to be during the middle of the recession, so I had a lot of classmates and colleagues who had graduated, were out in the field and, after about a year or two and were being laid off," she said. "I was trying to finish my program thinking, 'How am I going to have a recession proof job after this?' It was a way for me to make sure that I was taking the necessary steps before I graduated and had something I thought was set in stone while still following my career path."
Like it was part of her plan all along, Chandler combined occupational safety and health into a communications internship to complete her second bachelor's degree and get a jump on her fledgling career.
"My dad [Royce] used to work at a coal-burning power plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma, OG&E," she said. "He reached out to one of his counterparts who said, 'Yeah, we do internships.' I asked to do one."
From there, Chandler became a safety trainer for Indian Capital Technology Center, then a safety coordinator for OG&E. She moved into the healthcare field because "going home covered in coal daily wasn't really ideal" and started at Baylor Scott & White as a facility safety coordinator in 2011 at Dallas, Texas.
"Each one of my jobs led to the next through networking," she said. "Without a doubt, the networking from my degree at Southeastern has been instrumental. If I had to do it over again, I would do it the exact same way. I wouldn't change anything about it."
Chandler had lots of support from her family, including her father and her mother, Sandra, when she decided to switch gears and pursue an occupational safety and health degree.
"I felt like I was almost making a case for it, saying, 'Here's why I want to do it. Here's the opportunities if I do,'" she said. "That was interesting. The recession was hitting everybody hard at the time, including friends we knew who were new into their careers.
"When I gave them my reasoning, it didn't take a lot of convincing. My parents have always been supportive. They've always encouraged me to pursue education and stick with everything so this wasn't any different. I couldn't ask for better parents."
Making her biography seem even more like it originated in Hollywood, Chandler followed in both of her parents' career footsteps.
"My mother has her Bachelor of Science in Nursing," Chandler said. "In my first career, I was able to associate with my dad and what he did and protocols at the power plant. Now, with healthcare, I'm able to compare notes with my mom, talk to her and ask questions. Both of them are retired now."
Chandler immediately learned how to deal with managing tricky situations in occupational safety and health at OG&E, which helped her learn a lot in a short amount of time.
"I remember being small and my dad working there, so I knew a lot of the guys that still worked there when I returned after college," she said. "It was as though I had a bunch of dads or uncles working with him keeping an eye on me, but that also presented some challenges. It's hard to tell your dad or your uncle that they're doing something they shouldn't be or, 'Hey, you can't do that because I care about your safety and you.'"
Chandler, who grew up in Oklahoma, recently added a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management to her resume. She hopes to remain in the healthcare field and someday work in operations.
"I like how we can take somebody's worst day and attempt to make it better," she said. "Even though I may not be clinical, but I can still indirectly impact patients by working with multidisciplinary teams and ensuring we are always putting the patient at the forefront of all of our decisions. There are so many aspects of the job that I enjoy -- it's hard to narrow it down to one."
Chandler initially chose SOSU over other colleges closer to home.
"I wanted to branch out, so I started applying for scholarships to different places," she explained. "I visited Southeastern for an academic competition while still in high school. I ended up applying for the President's Leadership Class Scholarship. It made me get out of my comfort zone which was a big change for someone who attended a 2A school in a small community for the majority of my life."
Chandler believes the occupational safety and health program is ideal to prepare students for a career in the field.
"Make sure to do it for yourself," Chandler said. "Understand that it's a baseline, foundational level of safety education. There are so many other aspects of safety in the world now. It's a great way to get your foot in the door and introduce you to the other possibilities."
Learn about the SOSU online BS in Occupational Safety & Health program.
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