David Brown was inspired to earn his master's degree in infrastructure planning and management after witnessing the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In this interview, David talks about his current job and how the knowledge and skills he learned in the program helped him advance in his career and also opened his mind to new possibilities.
Can you tell us a bit about your current career?
I'm an IT disaster recovery professional for Seattle City Light. I do disaster planning for the IT services division and ensure that the communications, command and control systems and daily business tools are resilient enough to survive a disaster or unplanned event.
Why did you decide to earn the Master of Infrastructure Planning & Management?
I've always wanted to be involved in some sort of preparedness or emergency planning career. I had retired in 2006 from the military, and the year before, when Hurricane Katrina happened, I learned of a position called emergency manager. I decided that's what I wanted to be when I grew up. I looked into it a little bit more and decided to go back to school.
Was there anything you learned in the program that you found especially helpful?
Prior to my getting this job at Seattle City Light, I interned with the same department. Classes like risk analysis and business continuity – which this position is 100 percent related to – and comprehensive emergency management and policy analysis with strategic planning meshed with my job duties in the internship.
Do you think having this degree helped you get your job?
By having that background, as well as my military and volunteer experience, I was able to impress Seattle City Light enough that they offered me a position here.
What did you value most about completing this program?
Getting this master's degree was a complete life changer for me. I was working in a kind of dead-end job. By getting this degree, I not only got a great internship related to my capstone project, but that internship turned into a really good job with more pay and greater personal freedom. And it's one that's more personally rewarding. I don't think any of that would have been possible if I had not gotten into this degree program.
Do you think having this degree will influence your long-term career plans?
When I entered the program, I wanted to become an emergency manager. After several classes, I started rethinking that. They talk about college broadening one's horizons, and although that sounds like a cliché, that's what happened to me.
Halfway through the program, I started getting these wild notions of taking this infrastructure planning and management degree and maybe getting into eco-resort design or urban design and planning. I really started being aware of the greater potential for where this degree could take me.
This degree took me to places that I had not considered before. That's incredible, not just for a learning experience, but for personal growth.
How did you feel about the program's online learning environment?
I found it great. I was working full time and going to school full time. It's a great time saver for not having to commute across town, find parking and get on the campus, so I really enjoyed it.
How did you communicate with your classmates for team projects?
We tended to use Google Hangouts because you can have up to 10 persons in a chat at a time to exchange information and work on projects. You're also able to simultaneously use Google Drive, so all 10 people can be in one document making edits at the exact same time. You can work in the same document at the same time while seeing each other's faces. That really, really helped a lot.
What did the instructors and guest speakers bring to the program?
The instructors brought a wealth of experience. Jan Whittington is brilliant, and she's a taskmaster. She assigns so much reading – we all made jokes about it. But you know what? We learned more in her class than from just about anybody else's. Bob Freitag is another example. He has so much experience in emergency management and watershed management.
In addition, the guest speakers brought professional perspectives to the technical and theoretical aspects of the program.
Did you make lasting professional connections through the program?
Those of us who are in this area got together occasionally for coffee meetings. We eventually started inviting the faculty.
It is just like in our personal lives. I have Facebook friends that I've never met in person. Similarly, I have classmates who I've never met in person but interacted with on a significant basis online through weekly chats, chat rooms, Google Hangouts and doing peer reviews on one another's papers. I may never have met this person, but I know them. That makes up for the lack of personal interaction in real time.