Bret Gwaltney worked for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) for over 30 years, holding progressively responsible positions in health and safety. He served as a team leader, technical advisor and trainer for many investigations involving employees, third parties, fatalities and major property losses. In addition, Bret has 15 years of experience as a senior safety and health consultant specializing in companies with large unions. Now semi-retired, Bret spends his time traveling and teaching fellow health and safety professionals.
How did you get into the occupational health and safety field?
I’d say my professional experience is pretty diverse, with no linear career path. I’ve worked as an EMT, spent time in the family business, and eventually landed a job with SMUD working at the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station in their chemistry/radiation protection group. I worked at Rancho Seco until it closed in 1989 and transitioned my career into health and safety, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Whether students are novices or seasoned professionals, I love to watch them “up their game” and increase confidence in their ability to perform. Over the last several years, I have taught a number of courses including Incident Investigation Techniques. These courses have been very practical and useful for those in a variety of health and safety occupations.
How would a student describe your teaching style?
I would describe my teaching style as “hands on.” I like the phrase, “learn by doing,” and try to apply that philosophy in the classroom. Practice, with high quality feedback, makes perfect. So, I try to set up my courses using a simple framework that allows students to practice using state-of-the-art tools and get exposed to new practices in the industry. All of us have an opportunity to improve our work product, no matter how long we have been at this.
Describe a moment where, as a teacher, you feel like you had an impact on a student’s life.
Over the years, I have had several students call me about new jobs and career transitions. It has been very rewarding to know I played a small part in their success. Some people call this sympathetic joy, and it’s the primary reason I have continued to teach for UC Davis since 1998.
In your opinion, what separates the UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education Occupational Health and Safety program from other programs?
UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education offers very broad learning opportunities. The curriculum is dynamic, continuously improving, and satisfies the rigorous requirements of the University of California system. The instructors and staff are really experienced, with most having been “in the trenches” for at least a couple of decades. Finally, I’d say that the faculty and staff are truly focused on assisting students achieve their goals.