University News

UW-Whitewater safety students earn national scholarship

April 29, 2024

Written by Chris Lindeke | Photos by Craig Schreiner, Nick Pook, Submitted

Two students from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s occupational and environmental safety and health (OESH) major were named recipients of the 2023 Qualified Academic Program Scholarship by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP).

Christopher Gomez of Reeseville and James Groehler of Oconomowoc were among the 40 students nationwide to earn the scholarship, which was awarded to students at larger institutions including Michigan, Purdue, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and others.

“I am very proud of Chris and James for winning this prestigious scholarship,” said Alvaro Taveira, professor of OESH in the university’s College of Business and Economics. “I have enjoyed working with them in class and know their work ethic and passion for the profession.

“These jobs are in high demand, and our program has an excellent placement rate, so I see a bright future ahead.”

The BCSP is an accrediting body for the occupational safety profession, helping members earn credentials to help them advance their careers and protect the workplace.

“You get their certification, and you’re acknowledged by them,” Groehler said. “It means the difference between a safety professional and someone who goes above and beyond just being a safety professional.”


James Groehler follows a familiar path

A person stands in a construction site wearing a hard hat.

Occupational safety major James Groehler poses at a construction site for his current employer, Blattner Energy. (submitted photo)


As the third of three brothers who studied occupational and environmental safety and health at UW-Whitewater, Groehler was already familiar with the program.

Groehler’s older brothers, Matthew and Luke, graduated in 2016 and 2021, respectively.

“They talked for miles about how much fun they had, how great the safety department was and how good the college is,” Groehler said.

As a 2020 graduate from Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Groehler’s first experience on campus was during the height of the COVID pandemic.

Despite having remote classes and limited interaction with peer groups due to safety regulations, Groehler said he felt at home.

“Even though all that stuff was going on, you could see the politeness in people and everyone was just excited to see each other,” he said.

Groehler has been a part of the Student Safety Organization at UW-Whitewater and has been a research assistant in the Undergraduate Research Program. He’s spent each of the last three summers — one in Iowa, one in Oregon and one in Arizona — working for two renewable energy construction companies.

Groehler is in Texas working on a solar project for Blattner Energy, where he’ll have a full-time role following his graduation this May. He is also completing his safety capstone project, which includes weekly reflections, project notes and two case studies.

He was excited to get the news of receiving the scholarship.

“It’s nice getting the recognition of the hard work and dedication I put in through both my internships and my schoolwork to where I am now,” he said. “I’m getting acknowledgement that it was more than enough.”


Christopher Gomez finds his fit

Two students wearing purple shirts stand together during HawkFest.

Occupational safety major and peer mentor Christopher Gomez, right, helps David Blankenburg, a freshman media arts and game development student on the UW-Whitewater campus on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)


A first-generation college student, Gomez started at UW-Whitewater with the intention of studying music education. He soon discovered that music was more of a hobby for him and not an area that he wanted to pursue professionally.

After entering the business school, Gomez came to a “fork in the road.” After attending a Student Safety Organization meeting, he decided to pursue occupational safety.

“I found good success in it, it made sense to me, and it just clicked,” he said.

Prior to the 2022-23 academic year, Gomez was approached by faculty about running the Student Safety Organization. As president that year, he reimagined the group to build participation, focusing on creating monthly site visits around the region for members to gain exposure to different industries outside of the classroom.

Gomez is very active on campus. He is currently a resident assistant in Knilans Hall and a member of Lambda Alpha Upsilon, a Latino identity-focused fraternity, and the student organization Latinos Unidos. He remains a member of the Student Safety Organization and is a strong proponent of the major for students who may be undecided.

“I like how interdisciplinary it is — it's got a big science base to it, it’s got a good side of communication, and there’s a lot of law and regulation in it,” Gomez said. “You learn from it the whole way. You never just stop. You’re constantly working to be better, and it’s doing better for other people even if you don’t see it.”

In the past, Gomez has been a member of the men’s rugby club team, a peer mentor, and a panelist at the university’s Admitted Warhawk Days.

He is waiting on final confirmation to do his safety capstone project this summer as an intern with the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee. After earning his BBA, he plans to pursue an MBA at UW-Whitewater.

The BCSP scholarship will help Gomez get a head start on his career path.

“It gets me in the network and connecting with people more now that I don’t have to spend as much time of my week working to pay for school,” Gomez said. “It doesn’t just help me cover my financial bases — it helps me be able to put myself out there more.”

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