Finance and Operations

CUFD firefighter sets the example of lifelong learning


Going to college and completing a bachelor’s degree is an educational milestone that many people seek. For some, the path from high school to college is a direct one, but for others, the path may look a little different. Ultimately, each student must choose the path that is right for them.

For Clemson University Firefighter/EMT Jason Ham, he realized college right after high school just wasn’t for him.

“I had originally gone for an associate’s degree right out of high school, but it just wasn’t for me at the time,” he says.

It was ultimately the fire service that chose him, thanks to the persistence of a friend.

“It chose me,” said Ham. “At 16, I had a really good friend in high school and his family had a legacy in the local volunteer fire department. So for two months, it was ‘Come on, join the firehouse’ so I joined. Then it was, ‘Come on, you’ve got to go to the firehouse,’ and I went, and I was hooked. From the first couple of trainings that I went to I got hooked and that’s what I’ve done ever since. I’ve never known another career path other than fire and EMS since then.”

From that point, Ham has built a resume that features over 32 years of experience as a firefighter and just shy of 30 years in emergency medical service. Despite his vast work experience, Ham never really gave up on obtaining a college degree. As his family grew, the why to go back to school was, in part, very clear: to set an example for his kids.

“It was kind of a culmination of things,” Ham said. “My kids were starting to grow a little bit and so we were starting to approach that with them. My daughter is a college senior now, and right about the time she was in the eighth or ninth grade, I started to think about it again. So the decision was really a culmination of that example for my kids and that desire to add professional credentialing to the training I had gotten in the fire service.”

Ham started taking classes in 2013, but with his personal responsibilities at home, the timing didn’t quite work out. However, Ham was able to complete a number of his core classes, which laid the foundation for him to complete his degree in the future.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in 2020 and many found themselves stuck at home, Ham started to get the itch to go back again. This time, his persistence paid off as he completed an associate of science degree in Fire Science, before recently completing his bachelor of science degree in Fire Administration.

While he acknowledges that completing the degree is gratifying, Ham quickly makes it clear that he doesn’t plan to stop there.

“I’ve always preached that you never stop learning,” Ham said. “I was a fire instructor in New York, so that was a lesson with students, as a fire officer, that was a lesson for folks, and it was something that was instilled in me early on in the fire service. So it feels great to have the weight of the bachelor’s off and have that degree, but I’m not going to stop.”

Ham is currently enrolled in Paramedic school, the highest certification in emergency medical service, in addition to fire courses. He is slated to complete Paramedic school in April of 2025, and then “I’m going back for the master’s,” he says.

His path may not have been typical, but Ham says he couldn’t have accomplished his goal without the support of his family.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of patience and understanding from everyone in my family,” he says.

Ham recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with the Clemson University Fire & EMS Department (CUFD), after moving to Upstate South Carolina from Upstate New York.

“This was the best area that fit everyone overall, and I couldn’t have made a better decision as far as that goes.”