A few weeks ago my wife and I went hiking with another couple. It was a beautiful early autumn day that provided great conversation and some much-needed exercise. We started talking about our children and how we each still have one in college, and they said their daughter is a senior chemistry major who’s wondering what she will do after graduation. Without hesitation, I found myself urging them to have her look into a master’s in industrial hygiene. I started telling them what a fabulous career it is, especially for someone with a background in chemistry, and the next day I followed up with information about AIHA and graduate degree programs.
More recently, I was chatting with another friend and his daughter. I knew that she had just finished her undergraduate degree in biology, so I asked what she was doing now. She’s enrolled in a master’s program in public health, and the conversation gravitated to the courses she’s taking and, eventually, to industrial hygiene. While it isn’t part of her program of study, she had heard about IH and seemed interested in learning more.
I’ve been thinking about how many young people enrolled in undergraduate majors in science, technology, engineering, or math are not even aware of industrial hygiene as a potential area of study or career path. The AIHA members I talk with love what they do, but many of them say that they either discovered IH on their own or it was suggested to them by a teacher or a friend.
I started to wonder how much effort there has been to promote IH to young people at a time when they’re starting to think about their plans for postsecondary education. Have we, either as an organization or as individuals, done all we can to reach out to STEM students, either at the college or high school level, to suggest that they check out industrial hygiene as they’re looking at possible careers?
Last May, AIHA launched the IH Professional Pathway program to help IH professionals better understand their career options. Part of that program includes outreach materials to educate and inspire the next generation of industrial hygienists. If you aren’t aware, I encourage you to take a look and consider getting involved.
My own career began in college admissions, where I saw many freshmen arrive on campus with no clue about what they wanted to study. Sometimes all it took was a simple comment to get them to investigate a major they might otherwise have overlooked or never seriously considered.
I once had someone contact me to say thank you for encouraging her to take a course that ultimately led to her completing a graduate degree. I had no recollection of ever having done so, but my comment obviously made an impression on her. Then I realized that my own graduate degree came about because a friend suggested it, thinking the program might be of interest to me.
It’s been said that to teach is to plant seeds. Some take root right away and others blossom in their own time. If each of us were to actively seek out opportunities to plant the seed of IH in fertile minds, what might the harvest look like? Maybe it’s naïve to think that the future of the profession might lie with a simple effort like this, but then again, if we don’t try, we’ll never know.