B.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Class of 2019
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Back to School?
Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the changing of seasons and all that the crisp months bring, but I also love fall at Columbia Southern University. Every October for seven years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many of you who have traveled across the country to participate in the Commencement activities in Orange Beach. It truly is the best time of year at CSU.
If you have ever attended Commencement, you know how electric it can feel. To stand among your fellow Knights and acknowledge your hard work, sacrifices and commitment to earning your degree is something to be proud of. In this edition of the CSU Alumni Magazine, you will read about many fellow Knights who, like you, have made their way through obstacles and challenges. With stamina and grit, these Knights defied the odds and made a positive difference in the world.
Our cover story features Katherine Alexander, a bright, perseverant woman who found herself in unthinkable situations, dropping out of school when she was only in the seventh grade. Through a lot of hard work and a little encouragement from loved ones, she discovered an industry she was passionate about, earned her college degree and found her dream job. You can find her story of triumph on Page 12.
You will also read about ICP Systems LLC, a veteran-owned business headquartered in Atlanta. The ICP Systems leadership team is made up entirely of CSU graduates. Their teamwork and tenacity is taking the business to exciting places. You can read that story on Page 18.
What obstacles have you overcome? Has your degree taken you somewhere that you previously thought was impossible? I love hearing your stories, so I hope you will reach out and share them by emailing
Yours just may be the story someone needs to read.
2019 © Columbia Southern University
21982 University Lane | Orange Beach, AL 36561
Hello my fellow Knights,
During the last 25 years, Columbia Southern University has grown from humble beginnings into a viable force in the education community. Today, we are continuing to push forward in positive strides. This success can be attributed to not only our great staff, students and alumni, but also to the great discussions we all have with those who are looking to improve their lives through education.
CSU continues to add new courses and opportunities for those who seek graduate and postgraduate degrees, as well as continuing education opportunities. I urge you to take advantage of the low tuition rates and comprehensive curriculum.
I am proud to say that two of my five children are looking to start their degree programs at CSU soon. They have witnessed where my education has taken me in my career and I am anxious to witness the same for them.
As Knights, we have worked very hard to complete our educational goals with outstanding degrees. Why let it stop there? Keep climbing that educational ladder. The competition is getting greater, so whatever you can do to set yourself apart in your specific field, do it. I believe you will find that it always pays off in the end.
As always, I thank you for your dedication to our wonderful university and wish you the best with your future endeavors.
Alumni Association President, Class of 2004
We want to hear from you
Engage with us on social media or send us an email at CSU-Alumni@ColumbiaSouthern.edu
Join Your Local Alumni Chapter
Be on the lookout for the “Get to Know Your Fellow Knights” post in your alumni chapter Facebook feed. Each post includes fun facts about Knights in your area. Want to fill out the form yourself? Just look for it in your chapter’s Facebook group feed. It’s an easy way to break the ice and get us all a little more acquainted with one another. Plus,
you can win CSU swag!
Alumni chapters are open to all graduates with an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from CSU. To join your local alumni chapter, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Alumni/Alumni-Chapters.
How well do you know your fellow Knights?
One of the great benefits of joining an alumni chapter is to network, whether it is with fellow Knights in your community or those around the world when we gather on an online platform.
Virtuous Financial Group Founder/CEO
“Vessel” For Women’s Financial Success
“The average person isn’t walking around with thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, and that’s okay, but those people still need financial advice. Those are the people who still have a retirement or may have debt or need help with budgeting. You have to start somewhere.”
The name of her company has roots from the Bible. Proverbs 31:10 says “A virtuous woman, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.”
Faith also plays a role in how she operates her business.
“My faith is what this business is based on; it’s the foundation,” she said. “God has lead me on a certain path with my career and all of those tidbits in my life are stepping stones to be able to share with others.”
Vessel received her MBA in finance from CSU in 2010. She chose CSU largely because she is “always looking
“If you’re looking for an economical way to pursue your degree without losing the knowledge and accessibility of the staff, CSU is a great choice,” she said. “My degree has helped in my career to have the tools and confidence to pursue roles that I did not imagine that I could qualify for and to start my own business.”
Grenata Vessel strives to live a life of virtue. The term is so dear to her, in fact, that when she left corporate America to start her own company, she chose to put “virtue” in the cornerstone of her operation.
Vessel started Virtuous Financial Group as a way to offer financial services catered specifically to women.
“I feel that virtuous women are decision-makers; they’re involved in the family finances and they want to know more so they can influence their household,” she said. “They are ready to listen, to learn and to help their families out.”
Vessel decided to become a financial advisor after
a career in mortgage lending, underwriting and retirement planning.
“Some people I ran into were just getting by, and others had a plan for retirement, had other properties, brokerage accounts. It was surprising to me but not everyone fits into a box.”
After moving to North Carolina and deciding not to put her third child in daycare, Vessel took “a leap of faith” to create a unique business where she could meet people’s needs and assist them in achieving their own version of financial success.
This summer, Columbia Southern University visited the Big Apple to shake hands with some of New York City’s finest public servants: the New York Police Department. During their week-long stay, CSU representatives Renee Wright, Chris Carden, Tony Atchley and Caroline Walters visited all 22 precincts in the Manhattan borough.
During each stop, the team met with NYPD officers to discuss the Learning Partner benefits available to them
and their families. The NYPD has been a CSU Learning Partner since 2016.
Sgt. Joseph Gonzalez of the NYPD 9th Precinct was especially proud to meet representatives from his
Learning Partner Spotlight: NYPD
“Columbia Southern University has given me the ability to become the sergeant I am today,” he said. “The lessons I’ve learned will never leave me, and it’s an experience I will always be grateful for.”
During each visit, coordinated through the NYPD Office of Professional Development, the CSU Outreach representatives encouraged officers like Sgt. Gonzalez to apply to the New York City Police Department Scholarship, one of many that are offered to criminal justice professionals and Learning Partners. To learn more about the NYPD Scholarship, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/NYPD.
By: Chris Carden | Public Safety Account Manager, Department of Corporate Outreach
Chris Carden, public safety account manager, and Caroline Walters, associate vice president of University Relations and Corporate Programs, with Sgt. Joseph Gonzalez of the NYPD 9th Precinct. Sgt. Gonzalez earned his associate and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice administration from CSU.
With more than 3,000 Learning Partners across the nation, Columbia Southern University has already provided training and education to thousands. Learning Partners have exclusive benefits at CSU. Not only are these benefits available to our partners’ employees, but they are also available to employees’ spouses and children.
Become a Learning Partner
Receive Exclusive Learning Partner Benefits
When it comes to writing your resumé, listing both soft and hard skills could set you apart from the rest of the competition. In fact, employers may focus just as much on these skills that are attained through experience as they do on education.
According to ResumeGenius.com, hard skills are defined as “the specific knowledge and abilities that are learned through education or training.” Examples of these might include HTML, copywriting or speaking a foreign language. Soft skills are character traits or interpersonal aptitudes that affect your ability to work and interact with others. Soft skills could include empathy, delegation or conflict management.
By: Chasity Douyon
Career Development Counselor,
Community and Alumni Relations
LinkedIn listed the top skills that employers are seeking in qualified candidate s in 2019.
User experience design
Robert Cunningham began his career with Columbia Southern University five years ago in the admissions department. In his current role as military and veteran employment specialist, Robert works closely with active duty military and veterans to help them achieve their educational and career goals through career counseling, resume writing and more. Robert is especially well-versed in translating military duties to civilian accomplishment statements.
Keep a document that lists all of the projects and tasks that you contribute to or manage, as well as any results of these projects. This list is key to help you formulate accomplishment statements for your resume. Accomplishment statements are quantified information about how you made a difference in your role. An example might be “I exceeded my monthly productivity goals by 20% each quarter in 2018.”
In addition to your degree, consider taking online certification courses or pursuing an internship to help you hone your skills, as well as develop new ones. Or, ask your supervisor if you could assist with the latest project, even if it is slightly out of your job description, in order to acquire more experience.
You have already proven yourself among the competition by earning your degree. Go a step further by ensuring your skills, as well as your experience, are evident in your resumé.
Robert is a veteran of the U.S. Navy where he served as an assistant navigator on submarines. He collaborates with CSU’s Department of Military Outreach to assist with veteran’s initiatives, as well as assists with the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), a program that helps individuals with disabilities navigate the employment process.
Career Services is
Here to Help You
The Department of Career Services is available to assist all CSU alumni. Services include resume review, interview preparation, job search strategies and more. Connect with a career development counselor or discover additional career resources at ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Career-Services.
To reach Robert, email
From 7th Grade Dropout to
Safety Compliance Inspector
B.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Katherine Alexander is a down-to-earth, accomplished woman. She is a mother of six and a loving wife who recently earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health. She is also a seventh grade dropout.
From an outsider’s point of view, Katherine’s childhood was somewhat ordinary: hardworking parents, a sister with whom she was close, and accelerated classes in school in which she excelled.
“I always had straight A’s, won essay contests and brought home loads of certificates on awards day at school every year,” she said.
What some may not have realized was that her home life was less than ideal. Her mother worked 60 hours a week to care for her family, while her stepfather helped pick up the slack at home. Even with her mother’s two jobs, the family lived below the poverty level. Her mother and stepfather divorced when Katherine was 12 years old. Afterward, she found herself in a downward spiral.
When a staffing agency sent Katherine on an interview for an administrative assistant job in the health office of Tyson Foods (formally AdvancePierre Foods), she immediately felt like it was a good fit.
“The last thing I said walking out from the interview was ‘I’m the man for the job,’” she said. “I was so nervous and I really wanted the job. It was Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I had never had a job like that before. My phone started ringing before I even made it home and they were offering me the position.”
She soon became friends with Earl Johnson, the safety manager who worked in the office next to hers, who taught her about OSHA regulations and compliance.
“I quickly became interested in learning more about this fascinating world of safety. I had seen first-hand what a lack of safety can cause from working in the health office, but
“Getting my degree was a way to redeem myself. I loved doing the very best I could to get the best grade I could.”
“I stopped caring about school or about getting good grades. I started skipping school and not doing my work,” she said. “I would sneak out of the school to go smoke cigarettes under the bleachers. I was falling fast, and I was only in seventh grade. I had so much potential, but I no longer cared.”
She dropped out of school in seventh grade, a secret that she kept hidden for many years.
“Everyone has their deep, dark secrets they don’t want to tell anybody and that was always mine,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was worthy of anything; I was embarrassed.”
As a young woman, Katherine earned her GED and worked in restaurants to provide for her small children. She was promoted to sous chef and eventually to general manager. It was during this time she met the man she now calls her husband.
“I was with my husband for several years before I even told him [I dropped out of school] and I couldn’t look at him when I told him; I had to turn around. It was the most humiliating thing to me.”
“I had seen first-hand what a lack of safety can cause from working in the health office, but now I was entering a new world where you can predict and prevent safety issues.”
“I was able to change my view on myself, help my self-esteem. I can now proudly say I have a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “Even though no one would guess just by talking to me that I was a seventh grade dropout, I knew it. It was such a weight lifted off my shoulders to graduate from
CSU. It meant so much to me.”
now I was entering a new world where you can predict and prevent safety issues,” she said.
When Earl sent her to an OSHA course, she knew she had found her calling. She eventually completed enough trainings to earn her Certified Safety & Health Official (CSHO) designation.
“I told everybody who would listen that I wanted to be an OSHA inspector one day. It was the first time in my life that I felt truly proud of myself,” she said.
Seeing her progress, her husband Nathan began encouraging Katherine to earn her college degree, something she didn’t know was possible with a GED. She remembered hearing a fellow student from her CSHO training talk about his experience at CSU, so she decided to do some research.
“He said he was taking classes at his own pace and it worked out perfectly for him. His job was demanding and he had to travel a lot,” she said. “I wrote down the name of the school and looked it up when I got home. It was meant to be. It was an accredited university that was tailored to adults and their unique circumstances, and happened to offer the very degree that I was pursuing. It was
For her, being in college after dropping out of school
“I absolutely loved it. I put everything into my work; to me, it was self-redemption,” she said. “Before I dropped out of school, I was a straight-A student. I did really well. I enjoyed the work. I wanted to do my best, impress my professors.”
When she received the official notice in March that she graduated with her bachelor’s in occupational safety and health, she was overcome with emotion.
“I stared at it for an hour and just bawled my eyes out. It felt like I was letting go of all that shame that I had been holding onto for my entire life.”
Katherine began her career at AdvancePierre Foods as an administrative assistant. Today, she works for the Oklahoma Department of Labor as a safety compliance inspector, the job title she once told everyone she would one day like to hold. She is thankful for the support from her husband and children, as well as the guidance from her mentor, Earl.
“Earl was the first one who said he believed in me. He helped me begin to respect myself,” she said. “Nathan has
been my rock. I truly could
not have done any of this without them.”
By earning her degree and chasing her dream of becoming an OSHA inspector, Katherine changed her narrative from one of a seventh grade dropout to one of triumph and redemption.
Alumnus Benjamin Martin is the fire captain for the Henrico County (Virginia) Division of Fire, where he has served for 13 years. Between his fire service experience and his education in leadership and public administration, he has picked up more than his fair share of lessons along the way.
Martin shares his expertise on organizational culture and emotional intelligence in fire leadership by touring U.S. fire
departments and industry conferences across the country. He recently presented on the topic at the 2019 FDIC International in Indianapolis, Indiana.
To him, it’s all about leadership, but not in the traditional way most fire professionals are taught.
“What rank really gives you is a wider scope, a bit more perspective and a lot more responsibility. It can expose where you’re not as strong,” he said.
His presentations explore the science and health of leadership tactics in order to allow departments to operate efficiently, with higher moral and personnel buy-in.
“I’m changing the cultural expectation of how leaders behave, how they model behavior and what their
expectations of themselves are to others, not just always what they expect others to do for them,” said Martin. “That does not come without challenges. A lot of it comes down to relationships.”
When he traveled to other fire departments, he said he “didn’t see a lot of brotherhood.”
“What I like to think about more than the culture piece is we have to humble ourselves and take care of each other and make each other our priority,” he said. “In that way, leadership can be rewarding.”
In his presentations, Martin includes information on the neuroscience behind human behavior. While some attendees may be unsure of the subject of emotional intelligence and getting personal with their team members at first, the science behind it gets their attention.
“The things that I thought I knew, especially when it came to people, I had no idea,” he said. “Treating people as people and not as processes is something a lot of leaders can be confused about; they demand efficiency from people, like their processes. That’s not how people operate. They have feelings and they’re messy; sometimes they’re motivated, sometimes they’re lazy. Sometimes they’re attentive and sometimes they’re distracted. Sometimes it’s work that’s causing them anxiety and sometimes it’s something at home.”
Martin calls those who serve in the fire industry “stewards.”
“When you’re a firefighter, your job is to be a good steward, whether you’re a volunteer or you’re paid. You’re given a responsibility to take care of the people in your community and to do it with pride. But when you’re a leader, the things that you’re asked to take care of are people: the firefighters.”
Martin shares more on the subject on his website, embracetheresistance.com.
“It has everything to do with Newton’s third law: with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take a look at the fire hose, the nozzle. To put water on things and have any sort of impact, there has to be some counter-reaction,” he said. “We could take the nozzle off and it would be much easier but it wouldn’t be effective. It’s the same thing for leadership. If we strip away all the resistance, we aren’t being the best leaders.”
Martin received a bachelor’s degree in fire science and a master’s degree in public administration from CSU.
What rank really gives you is a wider scope, a bit more perspective and a lot more responsibility. It can expose where you’re not as strong
Martin and fellow fire fighters after a training at Firehouse Expo in Nashville.
Martin with his fellow Engine Company 9 team on his last shift as officer.
When William Payne, veteran and CSU alumnus, founded ICP Systems LLC, he knew the company’s success would depend greatly upon the leaders he employed. He hired a team who would help ICP Systems grow, and when those employees were looking to accomplish further educational goals, he knew how to help.
“My decision to refer my leadership team to CSU was not a difficult one to make,” Payne said. “Being an alumnus, I understood CSU’s learning environment and platform.
CSU is a reputable school with a strong history and worthy core values.”
Today, ICP Systems’ chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and vice president and chief operating officer are all CSU graduates.
ICP Systems is a professional services and technology firm that delivers flexible IT workforce solutions backed by subject matter expertise. The company portfolio includes projects for NASA that included initiatives in the White
of CSU Alumni
House, for the film “Hidden Figures,” “Time Magazine” and “National Geographic.”
Shareese Taylor earned her BSBA at CSU and has worked at ICP Systems for four years. As the company’s CFO, she says being a part of a small, dedicated leadership team has allowed her to learn many facets of her industry and the industries the company serve.
“It’s an environment that welcomes and permits you to roll up your sleeves and get involved. There’s always something new to learn and explore,” she says. “The government market is fluid; therefore, we adapt and respond based on the needs of our customers. I welcome the daily challenges and enjoy working in the market with my peers.”
She says working alongside her coworkers, who are also fellow CSU alumni, is a special dynamic.
William Payne | CEO/President ICP Systems
“CSU played a role in my success. I find it to be incredibly unique and rare to work alongside fellow CSU alumni that includes the CEO/president and chief operating officer.”
Catina Burrell, vice president and COO, began working
at ICP Systems seven years ago as a technical writer.
She later was promoted to project manager, a position she always desired but did not think was possible without a degree. With encouragement from Payne and an introduction to CSU, Burrell earned her bachelor’s in organization leadership.
“ICP is a small business, so our leadership team is also small. We all have the same vision and dedication to the company and our employees. We have become a very cohesive team that piggybacks off of each other’s strengths,” said Burrell. “I always knew that in order to be a good leader, I needed the appropriate resources and knowledge to lead effectively. Earning my degree in organizational leadership provided me with those resources, and gave me the knowledge to not only be an effective leader, but to teach others to lead.”
According to Payne, 95% of his employees have a college degree, and through the ICP’s Learning Partnership with CSU, he is able to refer those who want to pursue additional education to a school he thoroughly believes in. He knows that this is the cornerstone for the future success of ICP Systems.
“I inspire others to give their best,” says Payne. “I’m sure there are not too many companies that can boast that their top executives all graduated from the same college. We are indeed a special group. It’s a great feeling and honor to be surrounded by fellow CSU alumni. We truly have something in common!”
April 13, 2019
Pensacola, FL |
This April, CSU sponsored the annual Pensacola Beach Firefighters Challenge, held in Pensacola, Florida. Each year, Pensacola Sports™ hosts this worthy event that tests the strength, agility, teamwork and skills of firefighters in a fun, family-friendly event.
June 10, 2019
New Orleans, LA | In conjunction with the annual
ASSP Safety 2019 Conference, CSU hosted a student and alumni networking social in New Orleans, Louisiana. There were more than 200 students and alumni in attendance.
May 16-17, 2019
Orange Beach, AL | CSU hosted a blood drive with
LifeSouth Community Blood Centers. During this drive,
47 donations were collected, which will save 141 lives.
Gulf Coast Chapter | Join us this year for the Gulf Coast Chapter’s 4th annual Christmas party. Each year, members gather at the beach to catch up on the year’s events. Keep an eye on the events page for date, time and location.
The prestigious Delta Epsilon Tau Honor Society
recently inducted three CSU graduates. The DET Honor Society recognizes graduates who work diligently to acquire new knowledge and skills from an accredited learning institution.
In order to be eligible to apply, individuals must have graduated with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from CSU with a minimum 3.8 GPA and submit an essay demonstrating leadership and active participation in community, civic or professional groups. For more information, email DETHS@ColumbiaSouthern.edu.
CSU extends its congratulations to the graduates for their outstanding work and efforts!
Le Manh Hung, a 2016 MBA graduate of the CSU Vietnam program, was recently appointed general director (CEO) of Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, also known as PetroVietnam (PVN). The Committee of State Capital Management also appointed Hung as a member of PVN’s board of directors for a five-year period.
Established in 1977, PetroVietnam primarily deals with exploration, refinery, storage, transportation and service of petroleum. The state-run company is based in Hanoi, and is the largest producer of oil in Vietnam and has several subsidiaries.
Hung has expertise in petrochemical and organic synthesis technology engineering and holds a Ph.D. in petrochemical and organic catalysts. He has been praised for his outstanding résumé and key positions in public and corporate management.
Hung has worked as a technology engineer at the Viet Nam-Russia oil and gas joint venture since 2000, Drilling Mud Corporation. In 2006, he transferred to work for the government’s oil and gas department then returned to PetroVietnam to become the vice head of the Gas and Oil Processing division.
In 2009, Hung became deputy general director of Long Son Petrochemicals Co. Ltd. and head of Ca Mau Gas-Power-Fertilizer Project Management Board. Two years later, he became general director of PetroVietnam Ca Mau Fertilizer Joint Stock Company.
From 2013 to now, Hung had been working as vice general director of PetroVietnam in charge of the oil refinery industry, gas industry and electricity projects, as well as quality management and information technology.
Source: Vietnam News Bizhub
By: Anthony Cornealius
Le Manh Hung | MBA, CSU Vietnam
CEO of PetroVietnam