A new partnership between Virginia Tech and the Society of Product Safety Professionals will allow those working in product safety to receive certification and will establish a new assistantship to support doctoral students whose research contributes to the field.

Alan Abrahams, associate professor of business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, said product safety entails protecting consumers from unreasonable risk of product-related injuries. The certification program is aimed at compliance officers, reliability engineers, consumer affairs specialists, and others employed by companies that develop, manufacture, and market consumer products or are responsible for importing those products into the U.S.

“These are the people who work to save lives and keep families safe by reducing the unreasonable risk of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products,” said Abrahams, who is overseeing the noncredit program’s curriculum and instruction.

Virginia Tech has a strong track record in consumer product safety research. A project led by Abrahams, for example, used text mining to examine millions of online consumer reviews to determine potential hazards in children’s toys. Similar research by Abrahams and Laura Sands, a professor in the Center for Gerontology, the Department of Human Development and Family Science, and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, studied online reviews of mobility-related products aimed at older adults.

Elsewhere on campus, multiple acclaimed safety research groups in biomedical and mechanical engineering are studying things such as helmet safety and vehicle systems and safety.

“Virginia Tech’s spirit of Ut Prosim [That I May Serve] and our emphasis on improving the human condition drives us to do teaching and research that protect consumers from product-related injury,” said Abrahams, who joined the university in 2007. “We’re invested in making a better — and much safer — world.”

The certification program, to be based in the Virginia Tech Research Center—Arlington, will address core topics such as product safety culture and assurance, regulatory compliance, incident management, and product recall management. Those who complete the training will earn the designation Certified Product Safety Professional.

“This new partnership merges the complementary strengths and missions of our organizations: promoting education for industry professionals and the safety of products and protecting consumers from unreasonable risks,” said Shelia Gottschalk, president of the St. Louis-based Society of Product Safety Professionals. “Virginia Tech’s presence in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area and proximity to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission put our program squarely at the center of the product safety field.”

Devoted to educating various stakeholders about the importance of designing and producing products that are safe and pose no unreasonable risk to consumers, the designation has enabled senior staff and commissioners to participate as presenters in the certificate program.

ADK Information Services, which has been developing university-level product safety management education courses since 2010, is a core content provider for the program. President Don Kornblet said the program, previously managed by St. Louis University, has attracted over 1,000 participants since 2010.

The current iteration of the program is being managed by Virginia Tech Continuing and Professional Education (CPE).

“CPE is the gateway to the university for adult learners,” Director Shelly Jobst said. “We work with faculty members to provide opportunities for companies and agencies looking to retrain or upskill their workforce to remain competitive both today and in the future.”

Continuing and Professional Education, part of Outreach and International Affairs, provides over 350 programs that promote excellence in numerous professional fields.

A portion of the course revenue will be directed toward development of next-generation product safety professionals through the Virginia Tech Executive Ph.D. Assistantship Fund. Abrahams will serve as the administrator of this fund, which will help support product safety professionals or students who wish to pursue a terminal degree option focused on product safety.

“Our hope is that the assistantship fund will inspire and support current and aspiring product safety professionals to pursue a graduate research degree so we can continue to go beyond delivering existing product safety knowledge to expanding that knowledge and sharing it with the world,” Abrahams said.

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