Spring 2012 College Scholar

Michael Minton of Decatur, Illinois, was named the Spring 2012 School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach Cecile A. Christison Sterrett College Scholar.

After spending five years in a variety of jobs that he found less than satisfying, in 1978 Michael’s father, a fire fighter, suggested that Michael apply to join the Decatur Fire Department.  Until then Michael hadn’t considered a career in the field.

“Although my father was a career fire fighter, I do not remember asking him about his job,” said Michael.  “As we began our conversation about the job of a fire fighter, he explained the many benefits the city had to offer – the very first reasons why I selected a career in firefighting.  Now if I were to answer why I chose to become a fire fighter, I would have to say the greatest benefit is the satisfaction of helping others.”

Michael’s father retired from the fire service after 33 years, and Michael himself retired with the rank of Captain in November of 2011 after over 32 years of service.

Retirement has not lead Michael to a life of sitting on a porch watching the world go by, though.  Instead, he continues to serve as an adjunct faculty member at Richland Community College.  Over the years, as both a student and an instructor, he has seen great changes in distance learning delivery systems.

“Prior to the computer age, I was required to mail the professor my coursework.  As I studied the next area, I sometimes waited for weeks to receive any feedback.  With the development of online learning, the time it took to receive my grades was dramatically reduced.  Similarly, I try very hard to grade my student’s papers in a timely manner and supply them with a prompt response.  I applaud WIU for their diligent work to continuously improve their online learning program,” said Michael.

Education requirements in the firefighting field have changed dramatically since Michael joined the Decatur Fire Department.

“The recent trend for hiring and promoting potential candidates, especially to a Chief Officer’s positions, is college education.  Candidates applying for an administrative position are often respected by their peers because of their college education,” he said.

In addition, he stated that specific training is also very valuable.  Advanced training in areas such as EMS; Trench, Confined Space and High Angle Rope Rescue; Structural Collapse as well as certifications in EMT and Hazardous Materials is sought.

“In Decatur, firefighters and line officers with specialized training and college degrees are in great demand by fire administrators because they are the future of the department,” said Michael.  “Higher education contributes to a firefighter’s ability to comprehend technical information by improving the firefighter’s proficiency and increasing the firefighter’s awareness during emergency situations.  In many areas, firefighters who only have on-the-job training must rely only on their practical experience.  I think that firefighters who attain a college based education can better integrate higher education with practical experience to ensure a safe and effective outcome at the emergency scene.

“A college education is important because it gives the firefighter a greater background in the basic and advanced firefighting knowledge and skills than are learned in the training academy from an instructor who only has a few hours to teach the fire recruit the minimum knowledge needed to pass the recruit phase of training.”

WIU’s role as a National Fire Academy (NFA) provider institution with online courses is a big benefit for firefighters, too.  The NFA is located in Maryland, but WIU offers many NFA approved fire science courses directly to firefighter students.  Completing a qualified course awards the student an individual NFA certificate for the specific topic addressed.  In addition, completing a specific series of courses earns the firefighter specialty NFA certificates.   Several years ago WIU added a minor in Fire Science using the same courses that were originally designed in conjunction with the NFA.

Not only does academic knowledge assist firefighters as they seek to improve their job skills, promotion options, and their own safety, but for Michael they have been vital to his ability to instruct future fire fighters at Richland Community College.

“It does provide a higher degree of expertise in firefighting knowledge for an educator when instructing courses at the college level,” Michael said.

His own experiences as an adult learner have made him an understanding instructor to other adult learners.  When his daughter became very ill and was hospitalized with a great deal of uncertainty concerning how long she might need assistance, he had just begun a WIU course.  But he contacted his instructor and advisor to tell them about his situation, and the instructor was flexible in a way that allowed him to finish the class on time.

“I understand that many students have different life and class responsibilities.  I feel that being supportive and offering assistance to those individuals establishes a good student-professor relationship,” said Michael.

Michael continues to use more than the academic knowledge he acquired through WIU.  He also took some good advice from one of his own professors regarding teaching.

“One of my professors made the comment to me that she was happy to have an adult learner in her course because most adult students tend to focus harder on their study material,” Michael said.  “During our discussion, we agreed that motivating students can be sometimes difficult and developing new techniques of learning may help keep the students interested.  I gladly took the advice of the professor and developed a hybrid online course combining online material with an abbreviated classroom exposure.”

Student, graduate, colleague – we at the BGS program are happy to name Michael all three.

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