Smiling awkwardly and shaking hand after hand in a procession of new graduates, 20-year-old Wendi Uk became the fourth of five graduates to the Houston Community College’s inaugural Public Safety Telecommunicator, or 911 dispatch, program during a ceremony at the West Houston Campus on March 24 in Missouri City.

The eight-week course trained students in the critical moments during and after emergency medical and police calls, professor Vedron Bordeaux explained.

“Those moments when you call 911 and someone picks up the other line—those moments are critical,” he said. “You have to have someone that knows how to calm the person down enough to gather information for first responders.”

That additional information can make the difference between life and death, he said.

“It’s a big responsibility, but I feel like I’ve got the training,” Uk said.

Prior to taking the course, Uk said she worked in the fast food industry. The dispatcher program is an opportunity for stable income and good pay, she said.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, you’re always going to have a job,” she said.

To graduate from HCC’s dispatcher program, students must pass a series of certifications and take a state exam.

During the eight-week course, students took part in simulations to test their knowledge, listening and multitasking skills as well as the ability to operate under pressure.

In addition, students had to pass an “exhaustive” background check, Bordeaux said. The 30-page background check was a deterrent for many interested candidates, according to the professor.

“We have a high enrollment of students that are interested, but we tell them ‘you’ve got to do a 30-page background,’ and those numbers start to get low,” he said.

The background is part of the course requirement to become certified with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. 911 dispatcher certifications in Texas require qualifying candidates to receive their TCOLE certification within a year of passing the state exam, but HCC includes the certification as part of its course curriculum.

The program was conceptualized in 2020, formalized in 2021, and its first students signed up in 2022—and graduated March 24.

The college is exploring a 10-week course to include fire certifications. The program’s second cohort begins April 10.

“Thank you, every one of you for taking on the incredible challenge of this course,” said Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, HCC West Loop Campus president. “I can rest easy knowing that, if I have to call 911, I’ll be taken care of.”

According to the campus president, the West Loop Campus will remain the site for 911 dispatcher certification programs moving forward.

"We have partnerships with Sugar Land, Missouri City," she said. "It makes sense for this to be the primary campus for this program."

Jessica Snead, the program’s lead instructor and an eight-year dispatcher with 16 years in law enforcement, told the graduates, “Remember: You are our ‘first first responders.’”

More information on the program may be found online here.