WE Expect Excellence: Emergency Coordinator – Ashley McConnell Vander Jagt
Inspired by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, dance and film major Ashley McConnell Vander Jagt dropped everything and took a Spring Break trip to New Orleans, Louisiana to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity's Camp Hope. There, Ashley helped with the removal of health and safety hazards in residential properties throughout St. Bernard Parish (gutting houses i.e. removing rotting furniture, drywall, kitchen appliances that held biohazards) at no cost to their owners.
"I saw the destruction firsthand, which sort of changed my perspective on things. My career goals changed too. After I left the spring break trip I bought a one-way ticket to return to New Orleans for the whole summer. It was such a life-changing experience for me that my parents were worried that I wouldn't come back home to finish my last year of college," says Ashley.
Ashley did return to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City and began researching advanced degree programs in public health. She was admitted to the Tulane School of Public Health in the Environmental Health and Disaster Management Program where she received her Master's in Public Health. "While I was in New Orleans, I was able to get amazing experience in the Emergency Management field," says Ashley. "It is kind of a hard field to get into if you are not coming from a law enforcement, fire, or military background. I continued to volunteer, I had internships, and doors just sort of opened up for me."
After graduating, Ashley worked for the New Orleans Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness as their Infrastructure Planner, then moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she worked as the Medical Reserve Corps. Coordinator at the University of New Mexico. There, she coordinated all of the disaster medical volunteers from across the state. She also collaborated with local and state-wide emergency management agencies on trainings.
"The role of the Emergency Coordinator is so important to building resiliency in an organization, especially in a school district," says Ashley. "I've seen what a wide-spread disaster can do to a community, what it does to children and families, and why it is so important that we are able to get life back to normal as soon as we can. We don't want children to lose their childhood because of an emergency or disaster."
Currently, Ashley is working with administrators, educators and local law enforcement agencies to begin the process of developing an emergency plan template for each of Beaverton's schools. The process will start with one school at each level, elementary, middle and high school. "It's not just about creating that plan, but going through the process, the coordination, getting the right players to the table and talking through creating a living document that helps pull a school together to plan for emergencies," says Ashley.
Her goal for the role over the next five years is to develop a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training program in each of the District's high schools. "Through the program, students will learn how they can help in emergencies; but it also opens the door to careers they never knew about. I love my career, it's my passion and I think that's really exciting," exclaims Ashley.