Meet Trent Brass, Firefighter


Above: Online student Trent Brass, photographed at the Illinois Fire Service Institute on the campus of the University of Illinois—Urbana


Meet Trent Brass, Firefighter

Trent Brass, a firefighter for 18 years, currently serves as firefighter/paramedic with the Rockford (Illinois) Fire Department. During his days off, he works as a respiratory therapist for Swedish American Hospital in Rockford. Through Swedes, he also teaches emergency medicine skills to nurses and paramedic students. An online master’s student in public health with UIS, this year he received a scholarship provided by the UIS Evelyn N. Zimmerman Endowment Fund.


How did you choose online at UIS?

With the fire department, I’m on 24 hours and off 48, so a traditional setting for school presents problems. I heard about UIS online from a friend, and I was happy to enroll at an accredited U of I school with such a reputable program. I’ll come away with a little more standing because my degree is from UIS.

Why a master’s in public health?  

I needed a master’s degree to advance in my career as a firefighter, but more than that I’ve always had a master’s as a goal. My father and brother each have a master’s degree. My wife also has her master’s. I want one, too.

As for public health, through my work at the hospital, I’ve seen some of the community health care needs that Rockford has. I would like to have a role in preventing the need for some of the calls we have to take. A master’s in public health will allow me to do that through education and other outreach. Plus public health at UIS offers a certificate in Homeland Security Preparedness, which will help with promotions.

What do you actually study in public health?

So far, risk and needs assessments for issues like food sanitation, mosquito abatement, water quality. It’s about figuring out what the community needs for better health. I’m also learning a lot about how to communicate with the public without making anyone paranoid or resistant. My course now, Community Health Promotions, shows how to use a media campaign to promote health.

How is the degree improving your career skills?

As a firefighter, I respond at the front end to disasters and emergencies, but with public health I can respond after a disaster or emergency—with water and food safety and housing issues.

The master’s is also helping me become a better teacher at the hospital. For my master’s, everything has to be evidence based. I can’t just give opinions. I have to tell where I found the information, cite references, have evidence to back up what I say. I’m transferring that perspective to my teaching, and that’s making me a better teacher.

Will the master’s change your career goals?

I might consider teaching at the community college. That would allow me to combine the skills I have now with public health.

Something good about UIS online:

Online students tend to be working professionals, a little more experienced than I would expect in traditional classes, and they live all over the United States. For one project, one student was in Arizona, another in the Chicago suburbs, another in Madison, Wisconsin. I learned so much from them—especially from their work experience.

Three tips for other students:

  1. Schedule time to study. It won’t happen on its own.
  2. Stay on top of the syllabus so that you know to start early on big projects, and keep up on your reading, even supplemental reading. Online students have to do a lot more self-teaching and self-monitoring.
  3. Figure out how you will work around having less face-to-face time with professors. As you listen to audio, look through lecture notes, watch a video, you can’t just raise your hand to ask a question. So be intentional about writing down questions as they occur. The teachers have all been very accessible about answering questions either by email or a scheduled time when you can talk to them.

Who has supported your efforts to obtain your degree?

At home, my wife, Amy, and children, Brenden, Nolan, and Noelle, have been very supportive, allowing me the time for this.

At UIS, it’s great to have a contact person for questions about classes, registration, and your educational plan. For public health, this online coordinator is Lenore Killam. She’s been extremely helpful.

A suggestion for improving the online program:

Overall, the program has been great. The professors understand the challenges of online classes, and they have done a great job at engaging students. It certainly achieves what I was expecting from online.