Glenville State College Alumna is Safety Officer at Green Bank Observatory
Mon Aug 24, 2020
Glenville State College graduate Emma Yokum on the job as Safety Officer at the Green Bank Observatory, pictured here 450 feet up on the receiver deck of the Green Bank Telescope | Photo Courtesy of NSF, Green Bank Observatory


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GLENVILLE, WV - Glenville State College (GSC) alumnus Emma Yokum is currently serving as the Safety Officer at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO). The Observatory is home to the Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. Yokum started in the position just days before shelter-in-place mandates related to COVID-19 went into effect across the country.

“I started right in the middle, when everything was hitting pretty heavy. It was definitely an interesting time to start a new job, but it’s been really exciting,” Yokum said.

She graduated from Glenville State in the spring of 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resource Management with a major in Environmental Science. Upon graduating from GSC, she went on to West Virginia University to pursue a master’s degree in Safety Management.

While attending WVU and working part-time in Morgantown, she was browsing through job listings trying to find a good fit since she would be finishing up school soon. Yokum says she saw a job posting for the position at the Observatory and it immediately caught her eye. “I applied right away and a few short months later I was able to accept the position,” she said.

A native and current resident of Whitmer, West Virginia, a small town in Randolph County, she says she is fortunate to have found such a great employment opportunity so close to home.

“There are so many interesting things about working here. The Green Bank Observatory is a highly respected radio astronomy research facility. Being able to access the Green Bank Telescope on a regular basis is so unique and definitely my favorite part of this job,” Yokum said. “COVID definitely makes maintaining staff safety more difficult. It’s not as easy as putting safety glasses on or ensuring your harness fits right. It’s an invisible threat. But we’re making the best of the situation, everyone is doing what they have to do to stay safe,” she added.

During her time at Glenville State, Yokum was a member of the College’s Hidden Promise Program.

The Hidden Promise program, through partnerships with all 55 West Virginia counties, aims to increase high school and college graduation rates, better prepare students for college enrollment, encourage increased college attendance, and improve overall success in pursuits of higher education. Students selected for the program receive mentoring and, if they choose to attend Glenville State, also receive a scholarship.

“I was an active member of the Hidden Promise Program from the time I was in eighth grade to my senior year at GSC and it was definitely a big part of my success. Through that program I met a lot of great people and lifelong friends. I chose Glenville State College because of the environment that it offered. I graduated from Harman High School, with a graduating class of 12. I really liked the smaller atmosphere that Glenville provided, and the Hidden Promise Program staff certainly helped the incoming freshmen feel welcome,” she said.

Yokum credits Adam Black, GSC’s Associate Professor of Landman Technology, with prompting her interest in pursuing a career in safety after she enrolled in one of his Health and Safety classes that dealt with workplace safety and OSHA components. “That course is what really got me interested in this industry,” she said.

As Safety Officer at the GBO, Yokum ensures communications between the Environmental, Safety and Security (ES&S) team, and the site stakeholders served by the ES&S Division. She is also responsible for compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local environmental, safety, security, and health regulations and Observatory ES&S policy requirements, overseeing the daily management of ES&S programs to maintain employee awareness and compliance with program requirements, maintaining compliance records, assisting managers with safety issues, participating in safety investigations, and more.

See a video interview with Emma, produced by the Green Bank Observatory, here: