AMU Emergency Management Online Learning Original Public Safety

Alumni Stories: Preparing for Community Emergencies

By John Robert Morton, Student and Affairs Liaison, and Tara Cushman, AMU Graduate

National Preparedness Month is a time devoted to ensuring that families and communities are properly prepared for any potential disaster. As an emergency and disaster management professional in California, American Military University (AMU) alumna Tara Cushman is among those people who helps the residents of her state to make it through tough natural disasters.

Developing a Passion for Serving Others

Growing up in Sacramento, California, Tara said of her life, “I always used to settle for everything. I have now learned this late in life that life is short, and I do not want to settle anymore. I have come a long way.”

She graduated high school in three years and went on to community college. Later, she developed a passion for serving others, which eventually led to her decision to seek a bachelor’s degree and later a master’s degree, both in emergency and disaster management.

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Putting Family First

Tara had her daughter in 1991, which required Tara to put her own education on pause to support her family. She began working for the State of California as an office technician after her daughter’s birth and was married in 1997. 

In 2006, Tara resigned from her job to homeschool her daughter in middle-school classes. She says, “Homeschooling was the most difficult job I have ever had.”

After two years of homeschooling, Tara enrolled her daughter in a charter school so that her daughter could take classes at the high-school level. With her daughter’s classes taking place on different days and times, Tara had to regularly transport her daughter to and from school, adding to her busy schedule.

While her life was chaotic, Tara’s sacrifice put her daughter on the fast track to a solid education. Tara’s daughter started college classes as a sophomore, and Tara drove her to both sets of classes. After her daughter’s graduation from high school in 2010, Tara chose to focus on herself and go back to work.

In November 2010, Tara’s husband became ill and needed constant care. Tara notes, “My husband could not drive for two years due to the medications he was on. He had a lot of doctor’s appointments, so working was out of the equation.”

Returning to Emergency and Disaster Management

After nine years of focusing on her family’s needs, Tara finally went back to work. She is currently employed at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) as an associate governmental program analyst.

Tara is in the children’s unit of Victim Services. She manages grants for non-profits, counties, and CASAS (a comprehensive system for adult education) that receive state and federal funds.

Also, employees like Tara are expected to dedicate 100% of their time to any disasters occurring in California. Tara observes, “In all honesty, this is the time I feel like I do the best.”

Tara has worked on the planning and logistics teams in California’s Emergency Operations Center, the field, and the Joint Field Office. She has also been deployed for up to three months at a time, working up to 15 hours a day to help residents deal with any disaster.

RELATED: Knowing Your Community Is Critical in Disaster Management

Pursuing Higher Education

Of her education, Tara says, “I never thought about earning a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.” In working for California, it was not always necessary to obtain a degree.

However, Tara realized that she needed more knowledge to help her in the pursuit of her professional goals. For Tara, it was a shorter path to obtain a bachelor’s degree and earning her bachelor’s degree inspired her to complete the master’s program.

The primary reasons that Tara chose AMU are that it has online degrees in disaster and emergency management, and the instructors understand the needs of and work with students who are deployed to different areas. For Tara, having professors who understood deployment was huge due to the nature of her job.

Achieving Academic Goals

Tara is grateful to her professors for their care and attention. She says, “I cannot tell you how much I appreciated the support I received from all of the professors, especially Dr. Darrell Dantzler and Dr. Melissa Vives. I cannot say enough about their support and encouragement.”

Dr. Dantzler was Tara’s professor as she took classes for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, providing both understanding and support. His flexibility and willingness to work with her on assignments, especially during her deployments, “meant a lot!”

Dr. Melissa Vives was Tara’s professor during her thesis work and was extremely helpful as Tara’s thesis had to get Institutional Review Board approval, a stressful process. Dr. Vives took the time to call Tara and coach her through the process.

Tara enjoyed these calls because she could share stories and pictures from her deployments. They went through a deployment at the same time and were able to form a connection by sharing their stories.

Future Goals

Tara’s future goals involve enjoying life and giving her best to emergency disaster management agencies and California residents, in whatever capacity she can. She has considered obtaining a doctorate to further expanding knowledge.

In Tara’s free time, she enjoys reading, crafting, cooking, traveling and crocheting. She also enjoys spending time with her family, friends, a miniature pig and her dog. Tara says, “I love going to the ocean, camping and hiking in the mountains!”

Advice to Future Emergency and Disaster Management Students

Tara advises future emergency and disaster management students to “be persistent and volunteer where you can.” Tara adds that it is also necessary “to have fun and enjoy the journey. Everything happens for a reason, even when you do not know what that reason is.”

John Robert Morton is a Student & Alumni Affairs Liaison and has been with the University for 13 years. His bachelor’s degree in European history is from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He also completed master’s degrees in political science and sports management from American Military University. As a liaison, John Robert enjoys helping students and alumni to achieve their personal and professional goals.

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