When Hannah Silverman was studying homeland security, she analyzed port security and medical evacuations during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2013. The work for her capstone project ended up taking her to Washington, D.C.
As an active-duty officer in the Coast Guard, the topic of her capstone was personal. She wanted to keep her fellow service members and the public safe and healthy. Silverman presented her project to White House advisers and high-ranking Coast Guard Medical Command officials, an experience of which she had never dreamed.
“None of that would have happened for me had I not gone to Penn State and had I not had professors who were actually working in the field and had those connections,” she said.
The experience was formative for Silverman. She graduated in 2014 and continues to use her Penn State education daily as she leads threat and incident management for an international technology company.
Earning a degree while serving her country
Silverman wanted to further her education with a program that built on her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and her experience in security, loss prevention, and internal investigations. As an active-duty service member, she needed flexibility to accommodate her busy schedule as a second-class petty officer in Astoria, Oregon.
Silverman first enrolled in 2013 in the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security – Intelligence and Geospatial Analysis Option.
“I was working 12-hour shifts on and off,” she said. “There was just no way I could do a synchronous class or in-person classes.”
When the Ebola virus increasingly spread in late 2013, she decided to switch to the Public Health Preparedness Option so she could combine her interest in medicine with her experience in criminal justice and the Coast Guard.
“This is it,” she recalled. “It was perfect for me to be covering those things in school related to production of critical infrastructure and key resources. It was all extremely relevant to what I was doing.”
Preparing to respond to disasters
The Public Health Preparedness Option of the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security is a 33-credit program offered online in partnership with the Penn State College of Medicine through Penn State World Campus.
The program’s curriculum focuses on responding to natural and man-made disasters through strategic emergency management. It is the only homeland security program in the country using professors and curriculum from a medical school in collaboration with a major health system.
Silverman said the faculty members strived to be accessible and connected with students in the program. She remembers video calls with a professor who was in Nigeria during the Ebola outbreak and showed students what the response on the ground looked like.
“They really interacted with the students,” she said.
While it’s been nearly a decade since Silverman started her course work, she uses what she learned daily, referencing rhetoric and communication misinformation, ethics, decision-making, and an exercise and evaluation program used in an incident management course.
“It’s something I learned in school and have applied at every role I’ve had since,” she said. “Sometimes I’m the superstar in the room because I have this model, and I learned it at Penn State.”
A capstone project that helps others
Silverman’s capstone project, a culminating program experience, focused on port security in relation to viral hemorrhagic fevers and other rare tropical diseases. She had worked in the command center helping coordinate medical evacuation helicopter flights through her work in the Coast Guard and wanted to see how procedures could be adapted to keep patients, crew members, hospital employees, and the public safe during the Ebola outbreak.
With support from Penn State and funding from the Coast Guard, Silverman traveled to Washington, D.C., to present her findings and connect with other Coast Guard members who are Penn State professors. She discussed using software to track outbreaks and presented the work at Coast Guard headquarters.
“It was an incredible experience,” Silverman said.
Taking her skills to the technology industry
Today, Silverman is a senior director at a large technology company leading threat and incident management, which she described as her dream job. She hopes to enter a doctoral program and continue expanding her knowledge.
She credits the Penn State homeland security program online for helping her expand her career.
“Penn State really propelled me to be able to get the job I have now,” she said.
Learn more about the Public Health Preparedness Option of the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security offered online through Penn State World Campus.