Safety net: Extension’s Safety Specialist Certificate gives a vet a new lease on life


John Crary found out about the importance of safety early in his military career.

As a new Navy recruit, Crary was part of the Seabee Battalion, which is tasked with construction projects all over the world. One of his first assignments was working on a five-story building in Spain. Unfortunately, Crary didn’t know how to secure the safety harness properly, and he decided to wing it. It almost cost him his life—he nearly fell off the building.

“Luck just had it that I didn’t go over,” Crary said.

He certainly learned his lesson, and as he went all over the world—from Japan to Thailand to Africa to Afghanistan—building structures both large and small, Crary took a special interest in safety, even receiving an award for his efforts.

But after 11 years of service, Crary left the Navy, though not of his choice.

“I didn’t want to get out, but I was downsized,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but that’s life, I guess.”

Crary, who grew up in Dexter, New York, a small town near the border of Canada, found that his years of experience in construction and safety didn’t necessarily impress potential employers in the civilian world.

“I can’t tell you how many rejection letters I got,” he said. “It was disheartening. It was sickening.”

Crary knew he wanted to be a safety specialist, but he also knew he needed another way to convince employers he was qualified to do the job. That’s when he decided to pursue UC San Diego Extension’s Safety Specialist certificate, which is part of its Occupational Safety and Health Department.

The three-month program offers in-class education with hands-on skills practice and is designed to provide the training and certification for graduates to work as field safety supervisors, safety specialists, and occupational and safety specialists. It also includes an unpaid internship to give participants real-world connections and real-life practice.

Crary said the program was key in helping him on his way to a successful career in safety.

“It gives the credentials that employers are looking for,” Crary said. “It gives you status. I hate to say a piece of paper can do something, but it can.”

In addition, the program’s internship led to a full-time job as a safety manager for Helix Electrical, a construction and engineering firm with seven offices throughout the country.

David Watts, vice president and director of safety at Helix, said Crary has both the experience and the work ethic to succeed, which he attributes to Crary’s military background.

“John and I share a common background with both of us serving in the Navy,” Watts said. “That definitely earned credibility points with me. It was a big plus.”

Watts also has insight into how hard it can be for veterans to make the transition from the military to civilian life.


“I know I struggled with it,” Watts recalled. “I worked as a laborer and spent another five years paying my dues. It’s a cultural shock, and you have to adapt.”

Crary, who now works as a safety officer for Cyber Professional Solutions Corp., said he loves his job because it allows him to help others and feel the camaraderie he had in the Navy.

“It grows from my desire to take care of people,” he said. “As a safety professional, you are that first line of defense. If they don’t know what to look for, they don’t know how to keep themselves safe. Vice versa, the people I work with teach me something new every day.”

Crary, who was one of the first graduates of the new Safety Specialist certificate, said he would recommend the program to other veterans because it provides the knowledge and credentials today’s employers want. He said it has been instrumental in helping him create a life after the military.

“There are two things that have gotten me where I am today,” he said. “UC San Diego Extension is one and my fiancée is the other. Without those two things, I don’t know where I’d be.”

For more information about our Safety Specialist certificate, visit

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