Name: Mark Warnick

Hometown: Macon, Ill.

Profession: Retired firefighter and burgeoning author

Degree Earned from Capella University: PhD in Emergency Management

Capella graduate Mark Warnick
Capella PhD in Emergency Management graduate Mark Warnick


Mark Warnick spent decades climbing the ladder of volunteer firefighting. He gained experience battling fires in urban and wild landscapes. He won awards for heroism and even founded a nonprofit dedicated to supplying volunteer fire-and-rescue teams with vital equipment and materials. The only thing Warnick didn’t have, it seems, was a college degree.

So when some colleagues from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggested he consider getting a bachelor’s through an online university like Capella, Warnick took the idea to heart. “One afternoon I made a phone call to my wife and said, ‘Hey, do you mind if I try to get a college degree?’” he recalls. “She replied, ‘Sure, go ahead.’”


PLAs and PhDs

Warnick, now 53, decided to start a degree program in emergency management at Capella. But given his broad experience in the field, a Capella enrollment counselor suggested he might petition out of some of the fundamental courses using the university’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program. The PLA program allows students to earn credit by demonstrating college-level knowledge gained through professional and previous academic experience. Supplying extensive written answers to a series of questions allowed Warnick to earn credit for six undergraduate courses; shortening the time to complete his bachelor’s degree by three quarters and saving over $6,000 in tuition.

Warnick received his bachelor’s degree in 2011. By then, however, his passion for learning had grown from a small spark into a full-blown conflagration. He enrolled in Capella’s master’s program, and once again he used the PLA program to earn credit and bypass two courses, saving two quarters and more than $2,000 off of tuition. In 2012, he earned a Master of Science in Public Safety with a specialization in Emergency Management and a concentration in fire service administration.

While studying at Capella, Warnick had developed a fierce love of learning. Now, that passion prompted him to go a step further—achieving something he had never dreamed of. He enrolled in Capella’s PhD program and last fall earned a PhD in Emergency Management.


Tremendous Faculty

“The thing that that impressed me most about Capella is that they hire really good people,” Warnick says. He had one instructor who worked for the New York Police Department, another who had been employed by the CIA, and yet another who worked on security for the Super Bowl. Their experiences brought valuable insights into classroom discussions.

Dr. Warnick is now working on two books about emergency management, including one that focuses on disaster preparedness as it affects seniors and people with disabilities. (Part of his interest is personal—after a heart attack caused a blockage in his right artery, Warnick could no longer fight fires and was forced to retire.)

Writing, research, and advocating for the best practices in emergency management has turned out to be stimulating for Warnick—and he’s grateful for what Capella offered him. “I had the experience, but I didn’t have the learning to go with it,” he says. “So now, instead of just being a practitioner, I’m a scholar practitioner. If not for the PLA program in the undergrad and Master’s program, I most likely would not have gone on to get my PhD.”



Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s online PhD programs.