Joe Campbell

Joe Campbell on patrol

When Joe Campbell of Dover, Tennessee, met a local wildlife officer while in high school, little did he know that he was being introduced to a career that he himself would hold for 26 years and counting. His journey started at Tennessee Tech University when he earned his bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fishery sciences and continued when he returned to complete his master’s in public safety.

“The master’s program was 100 percent online, which was really important for an adult student working in the public safety field,” Campbell said. “We work crazy hours, so there was no way I could have done an on-site program. Plus, the professors were so accommodating. There were times where I would get called out for work and I’d have to apologize to my professors and tell them I was going to have to be out of pocket for a few days. They understood. They all came from a public safety field too and knew what it is like.”

Campbell worked as a firefighter and paramedic before spending the bulk of his career with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. He focused on hunting, fishing and boating enforcement for about 21 years. Now he specializes in investigations of boating incidents.

“In this phase of my career, what I’m enjoying most is mentoring the younger Campbell working with USCG at exercise in Memphisofficers on what the expectations are when we go out and investigate boating incidents,” he said. “When somebody gets hurt or dies, most of the time there is some form of negligence or recklessness that led to that. So, it’s imperative that we do a good, thorough investigation and identify the contributing factors.”

Campbell earned his master’s degree in 2021 after the graduate program was recommended by his friend and former colleague, Angie Bowen. Going back to Tech wasn’t a hard decision; both his father and his children had all graduated from Tech.

“Tech's just really become a tradition for our family,” he said.

The most beneficial aspects of the graduate program, Campbell says, are his improved critical thinking and writing skills – and maybe most importantly, the program's emphasis on collaboration between agencies.

“I know how I do my job, but in public safety, it's so much more than what you can do yourself,” he explained. “It's also about what the next agency is doing and your other partner agencies. It takes all agencies working together during a crisis to get things under control.”

In addition to enhanced skills, Campbell also gained knowledgeable friends and mentors, such as Mark Warnick, a lecturer in the School of Professional Studies at Tech.

“He's somebody that I can still call and bounce some ideas off of and get some advice from,” Campbell said. “And it works both ways. He'll call and ask me questions because we all have specialties and our own perspective of things. In public safety, it’s not just what you know; it’s who you know. It’s about who you can go to in order to get good information to help you solve problems.”

Campbell also currently works part time as the deputy director of emergency management in Stewart County where he has been expanding his emergency management skillset while serving his community. It’s a position he hopes to devote more time to once he retires from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“Had I not taken that public safety program at Tech, this door probably would have not opened up,” he said.

He encouraged prospective students who are considering the program to take advantage of the professional development opportunity. He believes that driven students who are willing to invest the time will find the rigorous program rewarding.

“I feel like, in our profession, we have got to continue to work on our professional development. This advanced degree allowed me to take the next step. It increases your credibility and credentials.”

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