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A Curricular Design Case Study: Creating Real World Safety Leadership (an initial case study)

Wayne Hartz, M.S., CSP, CIH, CSHM and Melinda Treadwell, Ph.D


Wayne Hartz, M.S., CSP, CIH, CSHM
Assistant Professor of Safety Studies,
Keene State College, Keene, NH

Melinda Treadwell, Ph.D.
Dean Professional and Graduate Studies,
Keene State College, Keene, NH



During the Fall of 2007 and Spring of 2008 faculty co-designed and instructed a new capstone learning experience for seniors in a Bachelor’s of Science degree program in Safety Studies at Keene State College.  Keene State College has embarked upon massive curricular transformation over the past four years and has established a central expectation of student engagement and service in learning at the college.  The Safety Studies Program faculty redesigned the program curriculum by assessing learning outcomes and expectations to better prepare our undergraduate students for the professional challenges awaiting them and to develop the critical knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful safety professionals.  The capstone course entitled Innovative Safety Leadership was redesigned at Keene State College to catalyze student learning by immersing our students by cohort teams to resolve real time safety and health challenges facing four local companies. Faculty leaders provided mini lectures to frame the cohort team’s work and served as advisors to guide the teams to successful, professional conclusions.  Student cohorts were instructed to serve as consultants to their client companies and were expected to derive solutions by applying their college educational experiences, the ANSI/AIHA Z10 systems safety model, and cost benefit analyses to provide options for clients to consider.  Faculty designers and instructors were challenged with this new model of instruction within the major and students were resistant to a model of instruction that did not involve faculty leaders “telling” them what they “needed” to know.  Feedback was sought from students and client contacts at several points during the semester--while a rocky journey, ultimately, all stakeholders report success in this newly designed instructional experience.


Full Text


As New Hampshire’s premier public liberal arts college, Keene State College faculty and staff are committed to providing and maintaining an intellectual environment grounded in the liberal arts that fosters both the personal and professional growth of our students. In support of this mission the College promotes and sustains strong relationships among students, faculty, and staff that emphasize creative and critical thinking, scholarship and research, and a passion for learning.  Our college has a history of creating service learning, research and civic engagement opportunities for its students.  Co-curricular experiences that move the classroom into the community and the world, making the College motto, “Enter to learn, go forth to serve,” are the touchstone in the lives of students and alumni at Keene State. 

Over the past five years Keene State College has migrated to a four-credit instructional model and has launched a new Integrative Studies Program to replace our campus’ former General Education curriculum.  These curricular transformations have purposefully been designed to provide deeper, more meaningful and multi-disciplinary teaching and learning experiences for our students.  During this same time, faculty and administrators have made a commitment to create undergraduate research opportunities for our students as part of our expectations for engagement and learning.  To be successful in this effort, Keene State will rely heavily upon partnerships with others who will help to provide engagement across the disciplines through applied, translational research opportunities. 

Safety is an interdisciplinary field that combines numerous technical disciplines to recognize and control workplace hazards in order to prevent death, injuries, and material losses.  Elements of psychology, sociology, behavioral and physical science, education, management, and law are integrated in this field.  A safety professional is “an individual who, by virtue of…specialized knowledge and skill and/or educational accomplishments, has achieved professional status in the safety field.”  Safety and health professionals today may specialize in a selected area of study or may serve as “generalists” who coordinate the strategies of other knowledgeable professionals to mitigate hazards.  The Safety Studies Program at Keene State College combines a strong liberal arts foundation with targeted instruction to develop effective generalists in the safety and health profession. 

Safety Studies

The safety program at Keene State College (KSC) began in the early 1970’s with a focus in the areas of education, public relations, business and communications and a faculty leader in Alcohol and Highway Safety practices who developed our first collegiate safety curriculum.  During the 1980’s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration became more effective in meeting its Congressional directive to develop and enforce regulations designed to provide a safe and healthful working environment.  As a result, the need for skilled safety professionals grew in the insurance and consulting industries and for manufacturing companies.  As the national focus in safety studies shifted from transportation safety to occupational safety and health, the program at KSC shifted to offer courses in occupational safety and industrial safety.  The College began offering a Bachelors of Science in Safety Studies during the 1980’s and currently graduates roughly 70 students per year.  Graduates accept employment opportunities in all sectors of the safety profession.   

As the faculty engaged in the programmatic review to support the current proposed curriculum redesign (initiated Fall 2005), significant effort was directed toward assessing the current curriculum, identifying areas of technical proficiency expected for a graduate in this profession, considering national trends for the profession, and evaluating the personal qualities and aptitudes essential for life long success in this field.  The faculty reviewed the previous programmatic self study (2003) and peer review by faculty from Millersville University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, sought feedback from colleagues and regional/national professional organizations, conducted an alumnae survey, and sought feedback for programmatic improvement from current majors. 

The programmatic review and feedback from our constituencies identified four primary areas of competency: 1) core technical skills, 2) capacity to innovate in the rapidly changing profession, 3) leadership skills to encourage organizational change when necessary for success in this field, and 4) interpersonal skills and attributes essential for success.  The department’s evaluation of core competency areas supported the development of a curricular structure which would established a solid foundation and progressive learning.

The proposed changes to the Safety Studies curriculum reflected an intentional design, with assessable outcomes, in each of the core competency areas identified by our programmatic review.   A course content mapping to match core competencies that would be the focus of instruction in specific courses was completed.   The proposed curriculum is structured to provide the knowledge and skills essential for individuals engaged in the practice of occupational safety, health, and environmental program management and the aptitude for these individuals to be lifelong learners and leaders in their profession.  

As the authors engaged in redesign of the senior capstone course experience for Safety Studies majors, they employed a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT’s) analysis to evaluate the existing capstone course and to begin to establish new capstone course objectives and delivery model(s).   This course redesign has been the most aggressive curricular revision in the Safety Studies program at Keene State College since moving to a four-credit curriculum four years ago.  Table 1 summarizes the SWOT’s analysis of the capstone course prior to the redesign described in this paper.



  • Students build a notebook of course materials as a take away product
  • Notebook requirements are demanding
  • Compliance training presentations are experienced by students as very challenging, with particular focus on adult training
  • Class size limited to 20         


  • Focused on writing a health and safety program for a fictitious company
  • Students reported notebooks are busy work
  • Students presented compliance training to class member audience as final presentations
  • Faculty member functioned as traditional teacher (teacher centered)
  • Course paradigm: organizational safety is achieved via training, enforcement, compliance
  • Graduates seen as techsperts or experts in a very specific field and are compliance/inspection focused
  • Students worked independently (course design did not reflect current research supporting active engagement for sustained learning).


  • Students work in teams to leverage learning about team work and learning
  • Make it real (have students work as consultants solving real-time health and safety issues)
  • Enhance final presentations, by having real audiences (company representatives, KSC administrators, faculty and students)
  • Instead of notebooks, utilize portfolio development with reflective writing assignments
  • Faculty serve as facilitators, mentors, coaches (student centered)
  • Course paradigm: organizational safety is best achieved through a process of continuous improvement and utilizing research to drive solutions
  • Graduates seen as facilitators, consultants (internal or external), customer/outcomes focused and leaders



  • Continuing same course jeopardized program credibility and value to potential employers.
  • Emerging safety professionals are ill prepared 


Table 1. SWOT’s analyses of previous Safety Studies capstone course.

Observations and Reflections

The new capstone course, entitled Innovative Safety Leadership, required safety study majors to bring together many themes providing a holistic perspective to their future profession.  The faculty co-leaders embraced a philosophy that would challenge students in new and exciting ways.  Students were expected to become leaders and to actively participate in the teaching and learning accomplished during class time.  As instructors, the faculty sought to create learning and teaching environments where respectful dialogue was encouraged.  Because there is no “magic bullet,” no one right answer, for many challenges faced by today’s safety and health professional, this class was designed to create an environment where critical and creative thinking was encouraged, diverse opinions were welcome, and solutions were developed and evaluated for their respective strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for an organization.  The faculty embraced an engaged instructional model that was adaptive encouraging students to employ respectful problem solving skills as they worked through course content and the challenges presented throughout the course.  Safety and health professionals from regional organizations served as clients and were asked to present student teams with several challenges facing them in their workplaces.  Students were expected to serve as consulting teams to resolve hazard prioritization and recommendations for their client. 

This semester-long challenge applied the concept of a disorienting dilemma, typically thought of in adult education, from Jack Mezirow’s transformative learning thinking. Mezirow posits “deep learning…happens through a disorienting dilemma…followed by discourse. A disorienting dilemma is a problem that does not fit our current schema and thus forces us to see things differently. Discourse or constructive contention…occurs when individuals begin to understand others’ perspectives and how others experience the same reality differently” (Battistoni, et al, 2003, p.16).  Student teams were presented with brief lectures during each class meeting and then worked in group with faculty consultation to apply the ANSI Z10 systems safety approach to resolve their challenges.  Students were expected to integrate performance measures, goals and accountability in their decision making and were challenged to excel both as an individual and as a member of a group.  The class required consistent reading, writing, and engagement.  Careful time and project management was expected of the students; which led to initial frustration and resistance by those enrolled.   

The faculty working to redesign this course shared a belief that our students needed to become leaders in their profession and the challenges presented by our client partners were designed to challenge leadership development.  According to Heifetz, “leadership is oriented by the task of doing adaptive work…the learning required to address conflicts in the values people hold…[which] requires…orchestrating conflict…change in values, beliefs, or behavior (Heifetz, 1994, pp 22-24).

Beyond these philosophical constructs, as the faculty leaders developed a delivery model for the course, the scholarly work of Doyle and Fink were leveraged.  The faculty sought to design a course that embraces engagement by moving from teacher centered (as most K-12 school settings) to student centered, where students are actively engaged in their learning (Doyle, 2008).   Beyond moving to a student, or learner-centered pedagogical design, the co-leaders also sought to change the learning experience for seniors enrolled in this course so that experiences were more meaningful and long lasting. “For learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner. No change, no learning. And significant learning requires that there be some kind of lasting change” (Fink, p.30).  Beyond change, it was considered that this new culminating learning experience for these undergraduates was to challenge them in new and different ways to prepare them for their future careers.  As the faculty worked to design real-world safety health and environmental challenges for the students to evaluate in this course, they explicitly sought active learning experiences where the students would solve complex, and inter-related problems in the work environment, “the common theme [to developing rich learning experiences]” is recognizing the need to provide students with a complex, challenging, context-rich “doing” experience that generates several kinds of learning simultaneously” (Fink,  p.114).


Figure 1. Fink’s, (2003) “Holistic View of Active Learning,” modified to reflect engagement.


Student Expectations

The faculty established expectations for student learning and shared these expectations in the course syllabus and through opening discussion with the class.  The following information is extracted from the Innovative Safety Leadership syllabus for Spring 2008:

You must understand that safety is integrated into an organization---this course will help develop this knowledge by creating learning opportunities where you will:
  • Understand and define key roles and responsibilities
  • Explain and apply a selection of measures applicable to your organization

An effective safety and health professional appreciates that it is people we are working with/for----this course will challenge you to think beyond the rules and regulations to develop innovative solutions that work for people and organizations.
Know that we care, a lot…

  • We care about your learning and will do everything we can to help you.  However; you must care about your learning as well. 
  • We hope that you will seek learning and understanding---it is not about a grade in the end.
  • We have a passion about safety; different strategies for facing the challenges of this profession, and we hope that our passion infects you…

Learn and know how to learn more….ultimately, this course will establish a foundation for your future careers.  May you become more effective lifelong learners because of this experience.  If we are successful, you will:

  • take responsibility for your learning, be reflective, creative
  • be able to see how systems can be enhanced to improve safety
  • be able to research and explain the requirements and  best safety practices for a challenge
  • understand principles of leadership that can make you a truly innovative professional in your future career

Course learning objectives:  At the conclusion of this course, you should be able to:
Express Foundational Knowledge

  • Explain what an occupational health and safety system is
  • Explain how parts of the system can effect the whole

Apply the information

  • Be able to describe various solutions for a given safety and health challenge
  • Be able to design and present the components of an innovative (holistic) safety and health program
  •  Be able to effectively communicate the requirements / your recommendations to varied audiences



Students were challenged by this new instructional model that did not involve the faculty leaders serving as the font of all knowledge.  Students were supported, but engaged in self-directed and engaged learning.  At the midterm, student work was reviewed and reflections reviewed.  Faculty co-leaders were disappointed by the lack of student engagement in deeper learning and offered feedback to the student teams that included some programmatic critique, self critique by the faculty, and critique of student work to date.  These observations were delivered in writing and with an open discussion during class time.  Faculty comments included: 

  1. our program’s lack of preparation for you to be self-directed problem solvers with skills in research methods and the “art” of program development;
  2. in most instances the limited level of personal engagement in robust research and delivery development.  On average, students are spending 0-3 hours per week outside the class on their work.  It ultimately is not about the number of hours each week that you spend on this work---you’re seniors and it’s about the product quality that you are producing.  Although we’ve seen pockets of really good work, there is no outstanding quality work as yet---we believe that you are headed in the right direction, but there is just not enough rigorous work being done by you yet.  We have talked with colleagues and former students from across the campus and have concluded that in a capstone course students are expected to invest between 6 and 14 hours per week.  As a point of reference, your faculty facilitators are each currently averaging between 20 and 24 hours per week on this class;
  3. our failure to explain our expectations for inquiry-based learning in this class and to rigorously organize the class so that you all feel comfortable that this learning environment is purposefully designed to be flexible and adaptive, not that you are part of a disorganized experiment
  4. Ultimately, we are deeply frustrated by our perceived imbalance between “our” investment in this course and “your” investment in this course (see item b above)


Three Themes of Student Feedback

“Your midterm notebook was lacking development, support, and depth. We explained to students via written and verbal feedback the following:

  1. Development:
    • Sharply focused and well written statements for client
    • By developing an idea fully, you and your group should anticipate appropriate, immediate actionable steps for the client---these should be clear to us when we review your notebooks or listen to your presentations
  2. Support:
    • You should be conducting robust research into hazards, assumptions, options, and recommendations for your clients’ programs.  This is work and we should see evidence of the effort you are expending to do a comprehensive job at the individual, sub-committee, and team level---it was rarely seen.
    • There were MANY FACTUAL errors in notebooks, in presentation materials, and in personal statements made in this class---this is unacceptable. We expect you to know your facts, get them right, and recognize that errors in research can result in significant adverse consequences for your clients and their employees.
    • Challenges (problems) not fully defined by sub-committees, research and justification inadequate to support priority setting as a team, assumptions made regarding challenges and priority setting. 
    • Solutions offered based upon incorrect definition of problems, inadequate research, and loaded with assumptions….feasibility (based on assumptions regarding client’s financial or management support) used to modify solutions.
    • In instances, groups have created documented evidence that opens direct liability concerns in notebooks----YOU will be viewed as a “competent persons” upon graduation---be careful here…do your homework and recommend what is necessary; not what you assume is feasible. 
    • By support…we expect that you will fully understand your client’s needs and work environment.  You should be thinking about the environment (organizational culture and pressures) and organizational systems that your client is faced with.  Group programmatic recommendations should reflect this awareness and recommendations should be appropriate.
    • You should identify your sources of research clearly
    • You should integrate other course learning and the level of group member knowledge available to you as you work on your program recommendations….notebooks frequently included statements that were:  unreferenced, subjective, and factually incorrect.
    • At this point, PowerPoint presentations and notebooks are mostly effective outlines ---your groups need to make compelling cases that sell the merits of your recommendations to the client.
  3. Depth:
    • You should be developing options for your client to consider that seek to systematically address the challenges you have been presented with.  Remember, there is no “one size fits all” or single solution to most safety and health challenges.  We expect that the group will present well researched and supported options with the pros and cons for each (in your group’s opinion).
    • We have developed and delivered mini lectures on:  group process, hazard prioritization and justification, measures, and health and safety education and systems approaches.  Your readings should be informing group process and individual work to develop program recommendations.   In general, the team presentations and notebooks did not demonstrate that you all are making connections between this lecture/reading content and your work.



Students responded by increasing the level of justification and critical reflection by the end of the course.  “Your work will be made public! When we consider all the possible ways to optimize our students’ learning, these six words rise to the top of the list. Preparing work for public consumption increases accountability” (Doyle 2008, p.115). Clients were invited to observe final programmatic presentations by the consulting teams and were presented with cost-benefit analyses on solutions.  Tables 2-4 summarize student, client and faculty feedback.

The college’s curricular change over the past three years (3 to 4-credit and the new Integrative Studies Program development) is designed to transition a majority of KSC classes to an inquiry and self-directed engagement and ownership model for learning.  National studies by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and many recognized scholars have shown that this model of learning, where the faculty member is a facilitator and resource---but not the “owner of all knowledge” and where the student is responsible for his/her learning as an actively engaged consumer--- is more effective at preparing individuals to be problem solvers that can more positively impact their professions and our global society. 


 “My opinion of this class has changed a lot since the beginning of the semester.  I wasn’t to sure what to expect and I honestly thought that I would dislike it.  I have now come to understand the purpose of this class.  I have learned a great deal about working with members of a group and how having disagreements is actually a good thing.  The more and more people talk and interact, it seems as though more and better ideas started to come forth.  I feel as though the hardest challenge that we had to face was placing each problem into order of what was most important and what was least important.  We changed each order so many times and argued until we came up with the right one and I definitely feel as though it was the right choice.”

“I would have to say that the most significant learning experience I had in this class was all about putting the safety program together.”

“This class has been the most stressful, overwhelming, and nerve-wracking class I have ever taken. And I have loved every minute of it.”

“I had my doubts about what I was going to get out of this class but now I can honestly say that this was an amazingly beneficial class to me as a safety major.” And “Combining two very different styles {of teaching} made for an overall exciting and structured class…”

“I think most importantly working as a whole group and not individually was my greatest learning experience…”

“At first it was all very overwhelming to think that we had to solve a company’s real problems…I didn’t know if I could do it…things started to come together…It was almost like one day we realized what were supposed to be doing…”


Table 2. Student comments and reflections.


Would you recommend this collaborative service/learning experience to another business?  Please tell us why or why not:

“I would recommend this to any business, especially when it is a one  or two man operation that may not have time to look into any safety situation.  It was very worthwhile.”

“You Bet!  There's nothing like having someone on the outside look in and not be afraid to be honest!  This is a win-win situation...both sides benefit.”

“Again, I can't thank you enough.  I hope this was as beneficial to the students as it was to us.  I sincerely hope this was an eye opener to the students...its not a perfect world and there are no perfect work places. Wanting to do the right thing and being able to do the right thing are not
always possible.”

“I would recommend this service to another business for a few reasons. First being that the entire process has been built to help out both parties involved. Each entity’s interest is to better themselves or their company through a cooperative effort. Most companies, I believe, would value this service because they’re basically getting free consultation out of the deal. Money saving ways to improve your company = easy decision. Plus, these “consultants” are being held to a certain standard by proven safety professionals, which in my opinion, is just short of a guarantee that the work will be done thoughtfully/thoroughly.”

“Thanks so much for including [company name] and me in your project. We are looking forward to using the student information to help us make progress in our overall safety program.”

“Thank you again for allowing [company name] to participate in your Capstone class.  It was really very worthwhile for us.  We are currently looking at the emergency call button system for employees that work alone, a behavior based safety program, a safety incentive program that rewards positive behaviors and a tracking system for our PPE.”


 Table 3. Client comments.




  • Students serving as consultants
  • Student reported success
  • Students using/learning team dynamics
  • Students using/learning ANSI/AIHA Z10
  • Students using/leaning measures & goals
  • Program assessment point
  • Serving local businesses
  • Final report serves as learning evidence


  • Clarifying faculty and student roles
  • Encouraging more creativity
  • Utilize disorienting dilemma earlier
  • Tighten student accountability
  • Decrease group size
  • Better prepare students for team work
  • Clarify grading expectations
  • Integrating with internship company’s


 Table 4. Faculty reflection on course experiences.

Our goal in designing the learning experience in this course was to challenge our graduating students to be prepared to lead in their future profession.  We felt compelled to provide skill development and to initiate habits of mind and practice that will help them to be successful.  As the semester was coming to a conclusion, Professional Safety reported on results from its Council on Professional Affairs study that, “…in several areas, the perceived performance of the safety professional fell below management’s stated expectations…[of] business and strategy, and technical safety expertise…not able to look at issues from a big picture perspective or integrate programs into the whole organization. Ironically, senior managers also view safety professionals as lacking key adaptive-type skills such as evaluating the effectiveness of safety-related programs” (Professional Safety, May 2008, p.24).  We were concerned at the mid-term of our work that the students would not achieve the deeper understanding and engagement we had hoped for.  In reflection, the co-facilitators of this newly designed course within the Safety Studies curriculum at Keene State College were deeply satisfied with the students’ maturity, professionalism, and leadership development.   Although adjustments in delivery and content continue to be made, the framework of engaging students as individuals and members of teams to resolve real-world challenges facing their future colleagues is the continuing bedrock of this course. 



American National Standard Institute (2005). Occupational health and safety management System Z10. Fairfield, Virginia: American Industrial Hygiene Association.
Battistoni, R.M., Gelmon, S.B., Saltmarsh, J., Wergin, J., Zlotkowski, E. (2003). The engaged department. Providence, RI: Brown University, Campus Compact.

Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner-centered environment : A guide to facilitating learning in higher education (1st ed.). Sterling, Va.: Stylus Pub.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experience: An integrated approach to designing college courses (1st ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Heifetz, R. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Massachusetts: The Belknap Press.

Professional Affairs (May 2008).The versatile SH&E pro. Professional Safety.