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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Hope Hartwell, MPH

HopeHartwellI am a Health, Safety & Environmental Specialist at Geospace Technologies in Houston, Texas. I work to foster a proactive health and safety culture by developing and implementing a HSE Inspection/Audit program for all departments in Geospace’s manufacturing facility to participate in and adhere to.

What led you to public health and to occupational & environmental health in particular?

When I applied to the UTHealth Environmental and Occupational Health Science (EOHS) program, my aim was toto use the academic background I received from my undergraduate studies to help the general population from a health standpoint without being in the medical field. I was researching how I could do this and somehow stumbled upon public health; more specifically Industrial Hygiene. I applied three graduate programs and heard back first from UTHealth EOHS. I didn’t know much about the program before that but after researching I thought it would be a great choice and it was also close to Louisiana, where I’m originally from. Choosing to go to UTHealth allowed me to go to a great school and get away from where was I from but also be able to visit without the hassle of booking a flight back home.

Tell us about your work. What is an average day like for you?

I have been working for a manufacturing company that designs and assembles seismic equipment to locate hydrocarbon sources on land and subsea for five years now. We have over 10 different manufacturing departments all of which have different hazards and risks present. I am a Health, Safety and Environmental specialist, and so I routinely review documents from manufacturing and engineering from a health and safety perspective, conduct trainings and toolbox talks, produce safety trainings and conduct internal audits and hazard assessments on a daily basis. I also monitor and sample for noise and chemicals from an industrial hygiene standpoint as needed. Whenever new chemicals are in the process of being purchased, I review them. I handle hazardous waste and all of our environmental permits such as our stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) and Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans. I also handle our workers’ compensation claims. There are countless other things I do but the truth is my day varies day by day. I can never plan exactly what I will do when I go into work. I love that about my job. It is never dull. There is always something new to learn and people to engage with every single day.

How did your education as a SWCOEH ERC trainee at UTHealth School of Public Health prepare you for your current career?

My education at UTHealth School of Public Health was very critical in providing the foundation for what I have experienced in my career thus far. Dr. Whitehead played a major role in providing the groundwork for my career in Industrial Hygiene and Health and Safety. He was very instrumental in me being able to stay in the program and get the funding through this traineeship. One of the most challenging and fulfilling classes was the IH- sampling and analysis course. I learned a lot from it and if I could I would take it again. They say hindsight is 20/20. Now that I am in the field I have a better understanding for what we were doing and the practicality of it in the field. I do wish there was a class that focused on safety in general because, in the job market, industrial hygiene is commonly attached to the safety field. A class devoted to writing safety procedures and programs would be vital as well.

What advice do you have for students pursuing a SWCOEH ERC traineeship leading to a career in public health?

For future applicants I would advise them to stay focused and keep an open mind. I would definitely encourage them to seek out an internship so they can have a feel for what it is like in the real world. This ERC traineeship is awesome because it provides a wide array of disciplines that you will need once you are done with your educational journey. It encourages you to focus and stay grounded. You are surrounded by professors who care about you succeeding and want to see you thrive not only at the school but in the field. Once you leave you are a representative of your alma mater and the program. It is an honor to graduate from an outstanding program that pushes you to be the best version of yourself.