Victor Shell Jr. was at a crossroads. The 23-year-old had been playing semi-professional basketball since graduating from college and knew he had to find a more sustainable, long-term career path. He was living downstairs at his parents’ house when one day, he heard his father coming down the steps. The two were about to have a conversation that would change both of their lives.
Victor Shell Sr. had been working in the safety field for over 30 years and had recently discovered the Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE) Occupational Safety and Health Training program. He tried a week of free classes and immediately felt energized by a desire to learn more. “I had knowledge about warehouse safety and general industry,” he said, “but not to that depth.”
Although he had never thought he would have the opportunity to attend Georgia Tech, “those classes gave me a chance to take a look at the program and say: I can do this. They opened my eyes to a venture that could go further.”
And go further it did. Shell Sr. went back to his employers and shared what he had gained from Georgia Tech. They agreed to finance his enrollment in GTPE’s certificate programs. One course led to another, and currently, he is on track to earn his ninth certificate.
He explained why he has sought such a breadth of education. "My responsibilities cover general industry more than anything else, but being in safety for as long as I have, I always cross into the construction, industrial hygiene, and hazmat areas."
"Having only a modicum of knowledge in each “could put employees’ lives in danger, but being cross-trained makes me confident that the information I am relaying in the work environment is solid and current. Multiple credentials do this for me."
None of this escaped his son’s notice, and when the elder Shell sat down next to him and offered to share his industry experience, Shell Jr. jumped at the chance. “My dad said, ‘Hey, I want you to get on your feet just as much as you do, and I can help you out. I can teach you what I do,’” Shell Jr. recalled fondly. “He didn’t force it on me. He just gave me the opportunity, so it was my choice.”
“My dad was always my role model,” he continued, which made the decision a no-brainer. For two years, he shadowed his father in his role as director of safety and transportation for the Construction Suppliers Association “learning how to do inspections and walk-throughs and how to communicate with customers.” Shell Sr. then suggested his son augment the hands-on experience with the same formal training he himself had received at Georgia Tech. Again, the younger Shell took his father’s advice and signed up for free classes. That led to an internship with Southwire Company — and to something else he had never imagined.
In a living example of “like father, like son,” Shell Jr. was immediately intrigued by the material offered in the free classes and wanted to learn more. When he heard about the Professional Master's in Occupational Safety and Health (PMOSH) program that was in the works, he knew he wanted to pursue it. Armed with a high undergraduate GPA, practical experience, the free class background, and recommendations that included a letter from his father, he applied for and was accepted into the first PMOSH cohort.
“I never pictured myself getting a master’s from Georgia Tech. I never even pictured myself applying to Georgia Tech!” he said, laughing as he reflected on his journey. But the interest in safety and desire to excel that he shared with his father pushed him forward, along with the example Shell Sr. had set throughout his life. “I knew I wanted to be just like him. And that motivated me to try to get into the master’s program as well.”
It was not without trepidation. “Yes, I was afraid I was going to mess up. I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time. But every time I reached out to my professors or colleagues in my classes, they were willing to help me because I was the youngest and least experienced of the entire cohort.”
And through it all, his father was there, encouraging him. “My dad said, ‘Just be yourself, ask questions and soak it all in.’” He did. “And I had a job opportunity before I graduated.”
Both Shells point to the connections formed with fellow students and professors as key to their success. “One of the things that really got me was that if I had any questions, all I had to do was send an email or make a call,” said the elder Shell. “That was a big plus for me.”
Similarly, Shell Jr.’s first job offer, at Georgia Power, came via a fellow student. A promotion to a position with Southern Company (Georgia Power’s parent company) was also related to a Tech connection. Everything happened quickly. “I went from being a safety specialist to a systems program coordinator in less than a year and a half.”
The bond between father and son is palpable, and the time they spent together has made it that much stronger. The pair drove to campus together, went to lunch together, even took a class together. “Just to be able to say ‘that’s my dad over there’” is really special, Shell Jr. said.
"It’s having those moments and being at a place we both never thought would even be possible, making a difference in each other’s lives — it’s just an amazing feeling."
Shell Sr. is equally thrilled. “As I have seen my son grow and mature, I never expected him to be a professional safety and health engineer — or in the safety field at all. But as he has chosen this field, it makes me proud to know that what I have done for all these years influenced his choice. What really excites me is to see him excel and even exceed my accomplishments. To see him take his talents, and bring the health, safety and environment sector to another level has taken my breath away. He is a game changer in the field that I have called home for a long time. And I can clearly say that Georgia Tech made a difference in his development. As a father, not only am I proud, I am speechless. I am glad he joined the SWARM here at Tech!”