Wesleyan offers ground-breaking program

“Where else can you learn how explosions happen, chemical fires occur, and toxic gases enter the air, but learn it safely without losing the thrill of chemistry in action?”

This question, posed by Melissa Charlton-Smith, chemical hygiene officer and West Virginia Wesleyan lab coordinator and lecturer, has only one viable answer: West Virginia Wesleyan College.

The college is now offering a Bachelor’s of Science – Chemical Hygiene Officer degree, the first institution of higher education in the nation to do so.

OSHA released the OSHA Lab Standard in 1990, a final ruling on occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories, that includes the requirement that all labs to have a chemical hygiene Officer (CHO). Many states have even more stringent requirements than what OSHA mandates, and all require a CHO or an employee that fulfills the same duties. This shone a light on an opportunity that Charlton-Smith could not pass up.

“I saw this as an opportunity for West Virginia Wesleyan to fill a need in a federally-mandated field that was not being fulfilled by any other bodies of higher education,” stated Charlton-Smith.

The college responded to Charlton-Smith’s initiatives, and in fall 2012, West Virginia Wesleyan became the first institution of higher education to offer such a program.

“This is the only CHO program in the nation,” commented Charlton-Smith. “For the last 23 years, there has been a requirement for all labs to have a CHO, but there has been no response by higher education to meet the need. West Virginia Wesleyan is the first college or university to respond to this need; this is a ground-breaking program for the college, the nation, and the profession.”

The BS-CHO major is currently geared toward traditional students with opportunities for non-traditional students to return to the college and complete the required coursework. The college has entered into a waiver agreement with the National Registry of Certified Chemists, the only certifying body for CHOs, to allow students to take the CHO certifying exam without prior professional work experience.

Students must complete a minimum of 80 hours of experiential learning while working toward completion of the program. These hours currently can be fulfilled here at West Virginia Wesleyan or at West Virginia University. The college is currently working toward agreements with industry and research facilities in the state.

The program began last fall, but without much time for recruitment and for students to wait to declare a major until their sophomore year, reflects low numbers for the program currently. However, Charlton-Smith thinks the number will change.

“We envision a reasonably-sized incoming class of freshman this coming fall and potentially some non-traditional students as well,” stated Charlton-Smith. “Current students find the new course offerings to be intriguing and have taken some of the courses outside their own major’s path.”

With excitement for this major building on campus and in the area, Director of Admission John Waltz thinks this is a great recruitment opportunity.

“Things like this are exciting for the college,” Waltz commented. “Because we are the first school in the nation to offer this program, it has really given our admission counselors something special to talk about. What is also nice is that we have scholarship opportunities for chemistry majors through our Hyma foundation. We are offering something distinctive and special at the college.”

To learn more about the Chemical Hygiene program, please contact Mel Charlton-Smith at or 304-473-8355 or contact the Admission Office at 800-722-9933.