Retiring ABIH Executive Director O’Donnell Reflects on Thirty Years in Certification

By Ed Rutkowski

San Antonio (June 2, 2014) — Lynn O’Donnell, CIH, the retiring executive director of the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH), recounted the highlights and challenges of her thirty-plus years of service to the industrial hygiene profession today in a lecture delivered at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

In her address, O’Donnell described how ABIH, the world’s largest body for certifying professionals in industrial hygiene, evolved from an entirely volunteer-led effort in its earliest days to a modern, staff-driven organization. O’Donnell, who served for six years on the ABIH Board prior to becoming its second executive director in 1991, has seen the number of CIHs rise from 3,900 to 6,700 during her tenure.

ABIH has sustained and grown the CIH certification despite challenges from competing organizations, many of which do not provide valid alternatives to the CIH, O’Donnell said. While some of the competition has come from legitimate registries and certificate programs, the biggest challenge has been dealing with organizations that offer credentials in exchange for payment and nothing more.

“Some of the credentials are valid, third-party accredited, rigorous credentials,” O’Donnell said. “[But] there are a fair number of them that [say], ‘Pay your money and we'll put initials after your name.’”

According to O’Donnell, the CIH examination hasn’t changed much during her time at ABIH. “We've changed what we call things, but the domains that we test on the exam still revolve around anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control,” she said.

But there has been significant change in the way the exam is administered. The former pencil-and-paper test offered twice yearly at a handful of sites in the U.S. has evolved into an electronic exam that can be taken at many locations around the world.

O’Donnell, who was the first woman to serve on the ABIH Board, asserted that the CIH will continue to be relevant far into the future.

“You are the bedrock of industrial hygiene,” she said, addressing the many CIHs in attendance. “You hope that those who hire us, if they have any experience hiring people with various ‘credentials,’ that they recognize us as being experts in that field. And that gives us hope that we're not going to disappear.”

"I've had a wonderful career,” she said in closing. “In particular, the people sitting in this room, the people I interact with, that's what really makes it for me—it's the people aspect and the networking for me, and I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to that.”

Attendees rose to applaud O’Donnell at the conclusion of her address, and AIHA leaders offered their best wishes to her in her retirement.

“Lynn has been a great friend to AIHA and to me, personally. I will miss her partnership and wish her all the very best,” said Peter O’Neil, AIHA’s Executive Director.

AIHA President Barbara Dawson said, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lynn through my terms on the ABIH and AIHA Boards. During that time, she became a great friend, and I came to appreciate how much she has given of herself to the IH profession. She set aside a promising career as a practicing industrial hygienist to dedicate herself to protecting and promoting the CIH credential. The ABIH is strong and the CIH has more value today because of her contributions.”

“In the fifteen years that I have had the honor to work with Lynn, what I have appreciated the most is her authenticity, responsiveness, candor, and ability to have a real conversation while being empathetic and respectful,” said AIHA President-Elect Christine Lorenzo. “I will really miss working with Lynn both professionally and personally. I wish her the very best in this exciting new chapter.”

Ed Rutkowski is AIHA's managing editor, periodicals, and editor in chief of The Synergist.