Like many students, Kassandra Buster’s path has had a few twists and turns in it. She started at O’Neill in 1997—the first in her family to pursue higher education. She dreamed of a job in homeland security but that dream was put on hold.
“Life just got in the way,” she admits. “I dropped out.”
She left college for a job at Riley Hospital for Children but was still drawn to criminal justice and eventually took a position as a 911 dispatcher. By 2009, she realized not having a degree was holding her back.
Buster returned to O’Neill with more motivation and commitment than ever. She earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, her master’s in criminal justice and public safety management, and a certificate in homeland security and emergency management.
She’s now putting those degrees to use for the community. As the senior coordinator with the IMPD Homeland Security Bureau, she updates Indianapolis’ emergency management plans and manages community outreach for disaster preparedness, including the Community Emergency Response Team.
“We train people in the community on how to prepare themselves and their families for a disaster, as well as how to respond if a disaster happens,” she says. “They can take care of themselves and their families first then expand out to their neighborhoods.”
The basic training course is free and teaches attendees about fire safety, active shooter responses, disaster medical care, search and rescue, and more. At the end of the 21-hour course, they work through a simulated disaster.
Buster says her O’Neill career prepared her to prepare others.
“The skills you learn in college are what you take out into the workforce,” she says. “Everything I did at O’Neill is something I’ve used in my career at some point.”
That’s why she scouts interns from the O’Neill School. She’s always looking for criminal justice students and those who want a career in emergency management.
“I know the education they’re receiving at O’Neill is a good one,” Buster says. “I know they have the skillset they need. I haven’t been disappointed yet.”
Her interns help her activate the city’s emergency operations center and volunteer there. They’ve worked to update Marion County’s hazmat plan through data and research collection, and have helped with community outreach for CERT, including giving out weather radios and developing seminars on helping those with disabilities prepare for disaster.
Buster is committed not only to providing her interns with those types of hands-on experiences but also to helping them create critical connections for the future. She knows the power the O’Neill network can have first-hand. It was her internship supervisor who helped lead her to where she is today.
“My supervisor was also an O’Neill alumna,” she says. “She helped me build a network and prepare for this career. When she left, I was able to return to this department and fill her role, so it’s come full circle.”
For Buster, part of that circle is providing a creating a similar path for O’Neill students. Students interested in an internship with Buster’s team can reach out to her directly at Kassandra.Buster@indy.gov.
“I’m going to help all of my interns with whatever they need now and in the future,” she says. “I’m looking for interns who want to help and who I can help with their future to lead them in the right direction.”