Online student juggles jobs, coursework with dispatch
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Sandra Seelhammer is the type of person who gets things done — even though her to-do list looks as long as some grocery lists:
- Directing law enforcement, ambulance and fire department traffic in her role as an emergency dispatcher in Rice and Steele counties, about 40 minutes south of Minneapolis-St. Paul: Check.
- Taking care of daughter Abigail, 14, and son Benjamin, 12, at their home in Faribault, Minn.: Check.
- Coordinator for The Blueprint for Safety, which devises multi-agency response strategies to domestic violence crimes in Rice County through the HOPE Center, an organization that gets abuse victims to the right advocate: Check.
- And, soon, bachelor’s degree in Christian studies as an online student at Grand Canyon University. Not only that, but she is on track to graduate with honors, boasting a 3.94 GPA going into her last class: Check yet again.
It all has worked together like a recipe. The dispatcher role has given her the calm-under-pressure stoicism to juggle work and kids, dealing with domestic violence situations on 911 calls increased her awareness of the issue, and she can use down time at work (there tends to be a lot sometimes) to do schoolwork.
In addition, she needs her B.A. degree to advance in her work in the domestic violence arena, and the flexibility of the GCU program, which does not require being online at a specific time, fits perfectly with her other roles.
“I had to have that kind of format,” said Seelhammer, 40. “That’s what attracted me to GCU. Some colleges want you to log on to an online forum in a certain window of time — that wasn’t going to work for me.”
The Iowa City, Iowa, native got an A.A. degree from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in criminal justice, and at first wanted to be a police officer. She is happy she wound up on the dispatch side, where there are no reports to do and few court appearances to attend.
“We’re every bit as vital as other people in law enforcement,” she said, “but without all the extra work.”
It’s a fascinating job in other ways.
“The best way to explain it,” she said, “is that it’s the same as a first responder — 90 percent of the time you don’t know what to do with yourself, and 10 percent of the time it’s insane.
“One phone call can overwhelm 4-5 dispatchers. A semi goes off the road and everyone is calling on their cell phones. But then we find out that it’s really not that bad. Cancel the ambulance, cancel the helicopter, cancel the rescue unit — but we do need a tow truck.”
When she enrolled in 2013 at GCU, which she heard about from a friend at church, she at first decided to get a different degree. But it didn’t fit her passion.
“Why not look for something you enjoy?” her enrollment counselor suggested.
Thus, Christian studies, and now she says she’s about to achieve “something I never thought possible.”
“It shows how the skills and knowledge that students gain with a degree in theology from GCU can cross over into other occupational fields,” said Jason Deaton, a master of divinity representative and alumni specialist at GCU.
Her faith also is a big part of her work for The Blueprint for Safety in Rice County, which is designed to make criminal justice practitioners better equipped to see patterns of abuse and deal with situations more effectively.
Arresting the abuser doesn’t always solve the problem in a battering situation, Seelhammer said, which is “very frustrating from a law-enforcement perspective.” Her 911 background fits perfectly with the need to help people and take better preventative measures.
“The HOPE Center needed a Blueprint for Safety coordinator who came at it from a different perspective, and I knew some of the court staff and some in law enforcement, but I wasn’t singularly focused,” she said.
Just because she’s dealing with emergencies from afar rather than up close, don’t think she doesn’t have the skills of an officer. She said she recently went pistol shooting with her fiancé, Corey Janz, and showed she’s no slouch in that area.
“I’m not a fan of guns,” she said, “but I’m a really good shot, so watch out.”
Makes sense. She has been on target with everything else on this journey — thanks to the guidance from above.
“I attribute it to God,” she said.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected]