Increasing Diversity Among First Responders

First responders such as police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians play critical roles in all of our communities.  As a result, it is increasingly important that this vital workforce reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. Community college faculty and staff have stepped up to this challenge through their efforts to recruit a diverse student body for programs that provide the technical and academic preparation for these fields.

At Waubonsee, our Fire Science, Criminal Justice and Emergency Medical Technician programs strive to attract a diversity of students to their respective fields through the promotion of our programs throughout the community. Our faculty and staff attend career fairs at nearly all high schools in our district. We also work with the GED and English as a Second Language programs to inform students of the pathways to enter the firefighter, paramedic, or criminal justice professions.

Our new Connect4Succcess program, funded through a Title V grant from the U. S. Department of Education, provides students with a personal Student Success Coach who provides individualized assistance to help students identify non-traditional career options, utilize the resources available to them to help them complete their goals, and enter the workforce. The majority of Fire Science programs require that students have already been hired by departments before starting the program. Waubonsee's program accepts non-rostered students, and allows students to attend part-time so that students who are balancing multiple responsibilities can pursue their dream to enter the fire industry. 

As evidence of our success, Waubonsee won the 2016 Excellence in Action award from Advance CTE: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work! in recognition of our work in helping students transition from our EMT-Basic programs at the dual credit level in high school to our paramedic program and to the professional arena. Collaborations such as dual credit programs demonstrate the benefit of partnerships to make the pathway easier for students from all backgrounds to complete the educational pathway to enter the profession. 

These efforts require a commitment from everyone including administrators, faculty and staff, students, alumni and employers. One outstanding role model is City of Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman who spoke at our commencement ceremonies in May. Chief Ziman graduated from West Aurora High School then completed an Associate in Applied Science degree in criminal justice from Waubonsee in 1993. She continued her education earning bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice management from Aurora University and Boston University, respectively. She rose through the ranks in the Aurora Police Department to become Aurora’s first female police chief earlier this year.

Also with the Aurora Police Department, Patrol Commander Keith Cross is another outstanding role model and Waubonsee alumnus. Commander Cross graduated from East Aurora High School, earned an Associate in General Sciences degree at Waubonsee and a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Bemidji State University in 1992. Promoted to his current position in January 2016, Commander Cross also leads the department’s Honor Guard, Crisis Intervention Team, and Hostage Negotiator Team. He serves as President of the Northern Illinois Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Waubonsee EMT and Fire Science Instructor Andrea Montgomery serves as a role model in the classroom and is also a firm believer in being visible within the community. Last year, she made a commitment to speak at numerous community events, and this year, has seen an increase in diversity within her programs. When she’s not teaching classes at Waubonsee, she works for the Montgomery Fire Department. She has said that she hopes that her presence in this field will help other parents not just tell their daughters that they can be anything when they grow up, but show them that it’s possible too.

Through active community involvement and partnerships, Waubonsee is committed to developing generations of first responder professionals that understand and reflect the communities they serve and protect.