Pioneer Spotlight: Julie Loeffelholz
When it comes to teaching, Julie Loeffelholz has more than a decade of personal experience to draw from. As a former deputy director of Grant County Emergency Management, firefighter, and hazmat and technical rescue technician, she has responded to natural disasters, transportation accidents, hazardous material incidents and more. Now, as an associate lecturer in the UW-Platteville Department of Industrial Studies, Loeffelholz teaches the principles of safety and risk management, imparting her years of knowledge to the future generation of professionals.
What first sparked your interest in the field of safety and emergency management?
My mother was the director of the health department for Grant County for many years, and she always wanted me to get involved in emergency management. In 2002 there was a flooding disaster in Cassville (Wisconsin), much like the recent one they had. My mother called and asked if I could come help out for a few days. After that I was hooked. So I went on to become a firefighter, hazmat technician and technical rescue technician. I love doing it.
After all of your experience in the field, what made you want to transition to teaching?
I absolutely love to teach. I love not only working with the students who come into our programs as freshmen, but also with the adults and non-traditional students. I like instilling the fact that safety doesn’t have to be a separate part from the rest of the business. It needs to be part of the whole picture of a business. When we start incorporating safety into all aspects of a business, we make a business much more resilient — and that ties into emergency response work, so for me it’s one big circle. I enjoy working with the students and that interaction with them.
What is one lesson you hope students take away from your classes that can’t be found in a textbook?
I want them to take the excitement and enthusiasm away from the classroom. Anyone can stand up there and lecture and give tests, but I want them to take away the fact that this is a passion. This is what saves people’s lives. If their job is done well, and if they are able to make things happen by working as part of a team and offering good techniques for how they can make safety a part of an organization, then they will feel some satisfaction. I want them to take away much more than just getting a grade.
How does your past real-world experience in the field help you teach?
It gives me a different way to present the information to the students because, for example, I have actually worn a hazmat suit. So when I put a student into a hazmat suit, I’ve been there. I know how hot and sweaty you get; I know the tricks of the trade that we have used to improve the comfort inside the suit. I know the safety regulations and rules – and of course you can find that stuff in a book – but having actually been there and done that gives me an inside view of it.
How do you keep up with your changing industry, and what new trends do you see?
One of the most important things is staying up-to-date with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and making sure we’re paying attention to the national and world-wide trends, not only from OSHA but also other regulatory agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organization, etc. We have seen some significant changes. For a while, safety went through a period where it was looked at as being nothing more than a regulatory thing, with paperwork, compliance and fines. Now we’re seeing a very strong shift in the industry, into an environment or climate of safety. Business owners are seeing the importance of incorporating safety into processes, not only from a standpoint of a job already being done, but now the new focus is on the design. So they are bringing safety people into the process when they are designing new workstations, manufacturing lines or assembly facilities. That’s huge. The demand for safety continues to grow, and I don’t see that going away. I see that as becoming the new normal.
Interview conducted by Alison Parkins, Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.