- Matthew Laws

Term : January, 2013
Department : Biosciences
Program : Environmental S&H MGT

Matthew Laws had been working in environmental compliance at a company in Northern California for five years when he decided to enroll in the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) program in early 2011.

“I was looking in my murky crystal ball, realizing that changes were afoot in my organization,” Laws says. “Most of the people in my job had very little formal training. I wanted to increase the likelihood that there would be a chair for me [if things changed]. I wanted to develop the technical skills that would keep me there. I wanted to credibly demonstrate to my employer that I really want to do this—that I want to distinguish myself from my coworkers.”

 As a resident of the North Bay, commuting to Santa Clara to attend courses meant making a personal commitment to his career. But Laws had done his research: after surveying the educational options in his region, he committed to the dual EHS and Occupational Safety and Health Management certificate programs at UCSC Extension Silicon Valley.

“Back in the late ‘80s, with the advent of proposition 65, I had attended several courses through UC Davis. Berkeley also had a similar program, but they’ve since closed down. [These days], people are coming out of their education in six years with all the components they need, whereas in the late 80s, [when] regulatory requirements were ramping up, people had to go get specialized training. You’re [UCSC Extension is] the last man standing.”

Laws was impressed by the course material and his instructors. He worried that he wouldn’t be engaged in the ergonomics course, but it ended up being one of his favorite classes.

“Say the word ‘ergonomics’ and my eyeballs roll up into my skull, but that instructor presented a very new and different look at how I interpreted that course of study. The instructor really knew what he was doing…I’ve got the course material stuck up on my wall. These are things that I can refer to and cite as a compelling reason for doing something, as a technical reference. These are things that have really followed me through.”

In fifteen short months, Laws completed all the required course work for the dual certificate and was able to bring his knowledge back to the job right away. He says that environmental health and safety professionals face stricter regulations from state agencies, and have to be that much more prepared.

“Regulations are a lot like the tax code – every year they get more voluminous and more complex…I feel like I’ve got tools I didn’t have a year ago to meet the growing regulatory oversights in our field. I found that I was learning as much from the other students as I was from the instructors.”

In the end, Laws did much more than simply secure his place at work—he learned techniques and regulations that continue to guide him on the job.

“[The program] was a very positive experience. It was not a waste of time and not just a piece of paper. I had wanted to do this for several years.”

 Visit our Environmental Health and Safety programs page to learn more about UCSC Extension's unique offerings.