Eric Bieniek, MPH
I am currently continuing my full-time employment with Braun Intertec Corporation, in the Houston office, as an environmental and industrial hygiene consultant. I will be taking the Bowen EHS prep course over this summer and plan to sit for the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) exam this fall. I am a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
What led you to public health and to occupational & environmental health in particular?
I was fortunate to become close with a CIH and senior-level coworker at Braun Intertec. He introduced me to an industrial hygiene career path by having me perform environmental and occupational fieldwork tests for a wide range of hazards, which were always interesting to me and were a fun change of pace from my normal job duties. That, combined with being able to see quantitatively the difference my work was making in protecting people, gave me a rewarding feeling. He has mentored me over the years and encouraged me to get my Master of Public Health degree and become a CIH myself. I was attracted to UTHealth because of their Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)-accredited industrial hygiene program that will allow me to qualify for the CIH exam, and the value of education I got financially compared to similar institution programs.
Tell us about your work. What is an average day like for you?
A typical day at my job does not exist and that is why I like it in general. Sometimes I write up proposals from home, reports, and other project management duties. Other times I am out in the field conducting tests to evaluate workplace exposures to biological, chemical, or physical hazards. I enjoy being able to set up and run the actual tests themselves at different businesses because I can assess all the variables in the area or process of concern to determine why a potential problem could be happening and causing harmful exposure(s). I get to engage with a wide variety of personnel and have different levels of conversations along the spectrum of industrial hygiene understanding, from coworkers and other professionals within the industry to clients and younger coworkers who need to be caught up on the in’s and out’s behind why and how we can evaluate and control a hazard.
How did your education as a SWCOEH ERC trainee at UTHealth School of Public Health prepare you for your current career?
I enjoyed a lot of the major-specific and industrial hygiene curriculum courses the most. I thought Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene, Risk Analysis: Principles and Practice, and Occupational Health Controls, Principles of Occupational Ergonomics, and Occupational Health Field Trips all broadened and deepened my knowledge and skillset since they are the most applicable towards possible future industrial hygienist responsibilities. While all professors were wonderful, respectful, and knowledgeable in each course over my two years, I felt that Dr. Su has made the biggest academic impact on me. His Risk Analysis course provided me a change of perspective on how to research, approach, prioritize, assess, and manage multiple hazards. This course also enhanced my problem-solving techniques by making me approach hazard exposures from a more managerial and bigger-picture perspective instead of the narrow perspective of simply “conducting the test”, which I was used to.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a SWCOEH ERC traineeship leading to a career in public health?
I would advise future SWCOEH ERC Traineeship applicants to be curious and learn to like the process of learning. Health in general, including environmental and occupational health, can be approached from many different professional disciplines, so exposing yourself to these various perspectives and learning from others strengthens your understanding on health-related concepts and issues. It also can help you see how your specific role contributes to public health. Applying to a traineeship provides you the exposure to these interdisciplinary views that help you grow professionally.