April 9, 2019 / Larry Sloan

Spreading the Occupational Health Message to Colleges

During my recent extended trip out West, I had the pleasure of addressing undergraduate occupational health and safety students at Cal State Sacramento. (Thank you, Patrick Corcoran, adjunct professor, for arranging the visit!) This was the first time that I had addressed a class of undergraduates who were not studying industrial hygiene per se, and since my visit occurred during the university’s spring break, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

To my delight, 26 of Professor Corcoran’s students attended and expressed interest in hearing about AIHA and the IH profession. These students were a mix of juniors and seniors, and most had already worked as interns in some capacity.

Following a brief introduction to nonprofit associations and AIHA specifically, I pivoted my remarks toward what I felt might resonate more favorably with students—AIHA’s content priorities and our incipient efforts to address artificial intelligence and the realm of smartphone apps. I must have resonated favorably, because several students asked questions about how they could specialize in IH following graduation. I then spoke one-on-one with several students who personally thanked me for taking time to speak with the class and asked specific questions about their personal career paths.

Following my visit, Professor Corcoran indicated that Cal State Sacramento has a “handful of graduates each year who are openly interested in applying to IH graduate programs at ABET-accredited schools, and several others who go to work as industrial hygienists in industry right away. It would be great to expand these numbers.”

This visit resonated very strongly with me. Speaking to undergraduate OHS students is a critical part of AIHA’s pipeline development activities. There are dozens of undergraduate OHS programs around the country that would benefit from a local IH speaking on behalf of AIHA and the profession to entice at least a few of these students to specialize in industrial hygiene. I challenge our local sections to explore such opportunities to spread our message.

Taking this a step further, I have been engaging with the Academic SIG to explore ways that we can more effectively target college STEM majors (those studying life sciences with an eye toward, for example, the medical or pharmaceutical professions, as well as those studying chemical, industrial, and environmental engineering). Not all these students will follow their original plans. We need to get in front of them to persuade them to consider an IH career. Their backgrounds are a strong fit.

Further efforts are underway as part of AIHA’s Brand Refresh Initiative to develop collateral materials aimed at college undergraduate students that IH faculty members might leverage. But getting in front of students is difficult because of intra-university restrictions designed to reduce “student poaching.” Perhaps by educating college counselors we can further communicate our story to students who are science-minded and might consider a lucrative career that offers so many different pathways to success.

How you are personally engaging in your local community to educate college students? Please share your stories in the comments.

Larry Sloan

Larry Sloan is AIHA’s CEO.


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