Brendan Walsh, MPH
I have accepted a full-time position with Georgia Pacific as a Safety Associate in New Augusta, Miss. at the Leaf River Cellulose Facility. The Safety Associate position is part of Georgia Pacific’s Safety & Health Entry-Level Professional (ELP) Program. After graduation, I took a 2-month vacation, traveling domestically and internationally. I am also a member of AIHA and plan to sit for the CIH exam in three years, when I fulfill the IH work experience requirement.
What led you to public health and to occupational & environmental health in particular?
I was first drawn to public health while taking a toxicology course during my junior year of undergrad at Louisiana State University. I found toxicology to be one of the most fascinating classes that I had ever taken. From that moment forward, I knew I wanted to do something “tox”-related with my career, however, I didn’t want to abandon my environmental roots. After speaking with my toxicology professor, we decided that environmental health would be a great career path for me. After graduating at LSU I applied to several environmental health programs, using the “Best Public Health Schools” rankings on U.S. News & World Report website to explore the best programs. I was admitted to all the programs I applied for, even my dream school, Johns Hopkins University. However, I was also offered a SWCOEH ERC traineeship in Industrial Hygiene from UTHealth. After much consideration, I decided to accept the traineeship instead of attending what I thought was my dream school. I can proudly say that this was one of the best decisions I have ever made in life and if given the chance to redo my master’s program again, I would not change a thing!
Tell us about your work. What is an average day like for you?
Since I have not started working yet, I cannot quite comment on this. However, I will be working under a mentor at a cellulose facility in New Augusta, Miss. I will work 6-12 months at this facility and then I will transfer to another Healthy and Safety (H&S) position within Georgia Pacific. Ideally, I would like to be placed as an industrial hygienist at one of Georgia Pacific’s facilities. During my time at the cellulose mill, I will perform health-and-safety-related duties around the mill. Additionally, I will complete a culminating H&S-related project, which I will present to my team at the mill. I will travel approximately 25% of the time in this program, during which I will visit other Georgia Pacific facilities (i.e., gypsum, lumber, corrugated packaging, chemicals, etc.) as well as engaging with Georgia Pacific’s H&S leaders at Georgia Pacific’s headquarters in Atlanta.
How did your education as a SWCOEH ERC trainee at UTHealth School of Public Health prepare you for your current career?
Although all of the courses in my MPH program helped prepare me for my career, there are a few that I believe had the biggest impact on shaping me as an industrial hygienist. They include: Environmental Sampling & Analysis, Occupational Health Controls, Health & Safety Program Management, Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene, and Principles of Occupational Ergonomics. I’d like to give a special thank you to the professors that taught these courses, Dr. Lawrence Whitehead, Dr. Wei-Chung Su, Dr. David Douphrate, and Dr. Inkyu Han. Not only are these professors wonderful teachers, but they are also great friends and mentors. Without Dr. Su and Dr. Han’s recommendations, I would not have had the opportunity to be awarded the 2021 G. Roger Florky Memorial Scholarship from UTHealth. Furthermore, Dr. Whitehead and Dr. Han served as job references, which helped me secure my internship with Cardno ChemRisk (now StanTec) during the summer of 2021. My internship at Cardno ChemRisk was one of the most valuable opportunities during my traineeship. It allowed me to finally use all of the knowledge I had learned in my courses and apply it to the real world. I plan on keeping in touch with all of the professors who have helped shaped me and my career. I’ve added all of them on LinkedIn and provided them with my personal email. Maybe one day we’ll also get to meet up at the annual AIHA conference, too!
What advice do you have for students pursuing a SWCOEH ERC traineeship leading to a career in public health?
If you’re looking to be a certified industrial hygienist (CIH), I strongly recommend that you apply for a SWCOEH ERC traineeship in Industrial Hygiene. UTHealth’s Industrial Hygiene program is ABET accredited, which allows you to sit for the CIH exam with three years of work experience instead of four! Additionally, a traineeship affords you the opportunity to attend bi-weekly environmental and occupational seminars, Occupational Medicine Journal Club, and even attend national conferences, such as the annual American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo.