Student and Alumni Testimonials
Learn about how our students’ and alumni’s experiences at the University of Michigan have impacted their career trajectories.
“As a nurse I often saw how environmental and occupational factors impacted the health of my patients. The Occupational Health Nursing concentration was a perfect complement to the Family Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Michigan because it offered additional education in this area widened the scope and areas in which I can work. After graduation I will be part of the 2021 Ecology Center Health Leaders Fellowship program and I hope to incorporate what I’ve learned in my future practice for years to come.”
“During this trainee appointment, my career and research development have improved substantially. Under the direction of Dr. Marie O’Neill, I helped design, implement, and am currently analyzing a project called Detroit Communities Reducing Energy and Water (DCREW). DCREW was a pilot project aimed to understand better and build upon strategies that would help mitigate many adverse health outcomes experienced by the most vulnerable populations in Detroit, Michigan. This research project used a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach to build capacity for climate mitigation in our target communities and improve the process for how Detroit residents access and use government assistance programs designed to supplement energy and water utility costs.”
“I chose the Industrial Hygiene field because I wanted to be in a role where I can help protect the health of some of the most vulnerable people in society: workers. Some working people face incredibly dangerous environmental conditions and I would like to play a part in ensuring their safety. During my time at the University of Michigan I learned all different aspects of Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene. From hands-on practical knowledge to research and theory and everything in between. UM’s program stands out because of the faculty and fellow students. Everyone is so kind, knowledgeable, and willing to help one another. I plan to work in the Industrial Hygiene field either in consulting or in government after graduation.”
“My education at the University of Michigan really prepared me for my career. For example, I had hands on experience using real time monitoring devices and performing sampling thanks to Dr. Zellers’ lab class and going through HAZWOPER training as a student – both of which I utilize often. The rigor and breadth of topics covered throughout my graduate education gave me the confidence to contribute to programs right away throughout my first 2.5 years of my career. Additionally, the network and connections I made with my cohort and professors have been a great resource even after graduation. The two years of graduate school go by fast, but I’m grateful for the lifelong lessons learned and the friendships formed knowing that I can carry those with me throughout my career.”
“I applied to and was accepted into the Industrial Hygiene (IH) program at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health (UM SPH). While the reputation of the school and program were what drew me to apply in the first place, the welcoming environment which I experienced upon acceptance is one of the main reasons why I chose to attend. After being accepted into the program, Dr. Richard Neitzel called me to answer any questions I might have. Other universities didn’t reach out to me or display the level of faculty engagement which I experienced with UM SPH. This “welcoming factor” certainly made a difference in my choice of school.”
Andrea Guytingco MPH '18 -Industrial Hygiene
I finished my undergraduate education in 2015 at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology with a B.S. in Movement Science. Unlike most people I knew in the Industrial Hygiene (IH) program, I had a rather roundabout way of ending up in IH and didn’t have any direct occupational or environmental health experience prior to starting in the program. I hadn’t even heard of Industrial Hygiene until I was accepted into the EHS program at SPH! I was lucky enough to speak with Dr. Rick Neitzel while making my decision about what program to do in EHS, who thought I would be a good fit for the IH program based on my application and experience in lab research and healthcare. I was drawn to IH because to me, it is a profession that works at the intersection of medicine, engineering, and business management – all areas I was interested in.
For my internship between the first and second year of my graduate program, I interned in Thailand for four months, working with the Sirindhorn College of Public Health in Trang, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai. My work in Thailand focused on occupational risk assessment, ergonomic evaluation, and environmental sampling in relation to agricultural workers and their pesticide exposure. I also participated in field work assessing the risks and hazards associated with electronic waste recycling in Northeastern Thailand. I graduated from SPH in 2018 with my MPH and two graduate certificates, one in Global Health and one in Risk Science and Human Health.
After graduating from SPH, I moved to Boston, MA to work at the Boston University Medical Campus and Boston Medical Center to work as an Industrial Hygienist for the shared Environmental, Health, and Safety department for the university and hospital. I worked in both research and clinical hospital settings and was in charge of programs related to asbestos management, indoor air quality, ergonomics, biological and chemical monitoring, and respiratory protection. In January 2020, I joined Takeda Pharmaceuticals as Environment, Health, and Safety Business Partner with a focus in Industrial Hygiene. While the headquarters of Takeda is in Japan, their US headquarters is in Cambridge, and it represents one of the largest Takeda sites across 80 different countries. I am currently creating and managing a new Industrial Hygiene program for the Cambridge, MA research and development campuses as well as managing EHS tasks for a lab building focusing on large molecule biologics research and development.
My education at the University of Michigan really prepared me for my career. For example, I had hands on experience using real time monitoring devices and performing sampling thanks to Dr. Zellers’ lab class and going through HAZWOPER training as a student – both of which I utilize often. The rigor and breadth of topics covered throughout my graduate education gave me the confidence to contribute to programs right away throughout my first 2.5 years of my career. Additionally, the network and connections I made with my cohort and professors have been a great resource even after graduation. The two years of graduate school go by fast, but I’m grateful for the lifelong lessons learned and the friendships formed knowing that I can carry those with me throughout my career.
Roger Lu MPH '15 -Industral Hygiene
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Davis in 2010. After graduation, I began a job as a Health and Safety Specialist at Stanford University. I was primarily involved with supporting safety and compliance in research laboratories in both the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering. In that position, I was already advising workers on safety and compliance issues. Over time, however, I became interested in pursuing a career like that of my Industrial Hygienist manager which would allow me to use my scientific background to analyze and determine hazard risks, thereby making a greater impact on people’s lives by preventing workplace injuries and disease.
I applied to and was accepted into the Industrial Hygiene (IH) program at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health (UM SPH). While the reputation of the school and program were what drew me to apply in the first place, the welcoming environment which I experienced upon acceptance is one of the main reasons why I chose to attend. After being accepted into the program, Dr. Richard Neitzel called me to answer any questions I might have. Other universities didn’t reach out to me or display the level of faculty engagement which I experienced with UM SPH. This “welcoming factor” certainly made a difference in my choice of school.
I started my Master of Public Health degree in 2013 and I expect to graduate in May 2015. While I still have a year to go in my program, several experiences have stood out. The courses which I have taken thus far have provided me with exceptional hands-on technical training and the opportunity to bolster my analytical skills. Furthermore, through funding provided by COHSE, I had the opportunity this past June to attend the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s annual conference where I was able to hear about current IH research and network with others in the field.
In addition to my coursework, I have had the opportunity to continue to support laboratory safety and compliance through a part-time academic year position with the Department of Occupational Safety & Environmental Health at UM. I also had the opportunity to participate in an internship with BP this past summer. During my internship, I worked on several field sampling projects such as indoor air quality assessments, noise surveys, and heat stress monitoring. This gave me the opportunity to work with process engineers, process safety management teams, environmental specialists, safety advisors, as well as senior management. Most notably, this taught me the importance of transparent communication in my work.
After graduation, I will be joining BP to continue to prevent workplace contaminants and stressors. Ultimately, I hope to obtain an international position where I am able to assist companies in other countries with improving their safety practices. Graduates of UM’s IH program often push their own experiences forward by offering internships to current students; many even offer permanent positions. Additionally, UM alumni are always well represented at IH conferences. I’m excited to finish my degree, contribute to my community, and become one of these alumni that push the good will forward to future UM IH students.
Kristin Knuutila MSE '14 -Occupational Safety Engineering
I’m a return-to-learn, first generation college graduate. I attended Schoolcraft College in Livonia, MI, where I completed an associate’s degree. Later, I transferred into the bachelor’s degree program in the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) at the University of Michigan. During both of my undergraduate degree programs, I worked in the retail service industry. My experiences in this industry led me to become interested in helping people to improve their work experience through process improvement. Upon sharing these aspirations with a professor, he helped me to find an internship with an industrial engineering company. All of these experiences led me to pursue a master’s degree in IOE to gain more specialize knowledge on occupational safety topics.
Having grown up in the Metro Detroit area and having completed my bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, which has such an excellent reputation and is recognized around the world, I couldn’t have imagined going anywhere else for my master’s degree. I was introduced to a wide range of ergonomic and safety principles during my master’s program. For instance, I participated in a research project which involved exploring disruption in normal sleep patterns as it relates to safety and how that can lead to cognitive dysfunction. In another project, I helped to evaluate wheelchair users and their ability to use household appliances. The knowledge that I gained from this program and research has allowed me to consider additional ways that I can help people to improve their work experience.
I recently graduated with my master’s degree in IOE this past Spring semester (2014). I am currently employed as a Simulation Engineer Intern with an industrial engineering consulting company where I am enhancing website content and user experience. In the immediate future, I hope to use my ergonomics knowledge along with innovative human modeling software to create realistic computer simulations of employee movement on the job. This software represents the state-of-the-art in ergonomic and worker safety evaluation techniques. In the long term, I hope to also be able to address the social aspects of ergonomics in my work.
My experiences at the University of Michigan have opened up opportunities that I never could have dreamt of ten years ago. Interaction with graduate and PhD students, renowned professors, and so many different facets and fields of the engineering discipline have given me the exposure that helped me to define my career goals. Furthermore, the opportunity to tailor my research projects and internships to my own interests significantly enhanced my learning experience. In addition to the job postings they send me and recommendations they support me with, I thank UM for exposing me to these possibilities and for helping me to find my place in the professional world.
Ashley Tupper MSN '14 -Occupational Health Nursing
Occupational Health Nursing (OHN) concentration at the University of Michigan provided me with a foundation in occupational health that has opened the door to many jobs in diverse settings including urgent care, hospital-based occupational health, industry, construction, and migrant camps. Beyond my training as a Family Nurse Practitioner, the occupational health clinical rotation afforded me the opportunity to place sutures, perform Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exams, review audiology and spirometry tests, perform fit for duty exams, and much more.
This concentration is not just about the impressive funding that is available. It requires you to become an advocate for your own education and to excel as an independent learner. Additionally, you are expected to function as a representative for the School of Nursing in diversely populated classrooms. Most importantly, in order to be successful in this program you need to be dedicated both to the field of occupational health and to bringing your service and knowledge to this population of patients in the workforce.
This program truly provides substantial value for your time investment. I have been able to make professional contacts with leaders in research and academia. Additionally, the OHN concentration has provided me with the preparation needed to sit for the Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist (COHN-S) certification. Furthermore, I was provided with the funds to complete DOT Medical Examiner Training and soon I will sit for the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME) certification examination (saving my future employer over $400).
Prior to graduation, I was offered a position with a local medical group that provides urgent, primary, and occupational health care to the community. It was this program, this concentration, and these experiences that helped me reach my professional goals and helped me shine brightest.
Feng-Chiao Su PhD '13 -Pilot Project Research Training Program (PPRT)
From a young age I knew that I wanted to work in academia and to do research. While I was trained as a high school teacher in my undergraduate program, I soon realized that research was more appealing and meaningful to me. So after completing my masters program in Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene in Taiwan, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree abroad. In order to broaden my area of expertise, I applied to the PhD program in Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan (UM), which is one of the world’s leading public health programs. My dissertation research at UM examined exposure to volatile organic compounds known as VOCs, which are pollutants that each of us frequently encounters both at home and in the workplace as gasoline vapors, solvents, waste materials, and other chemicals.
I am now working as a postdoctoral scholar examining the linkage between exposures to pesticides and other chemicals and the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This research is important because ALS is a very aggressive, fatal disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure and current medications only briefly delay the disease’s progression. In order to help support this research, I applied to COHSE’s Pilot Project Research Training (PPRT) program and received funding for a study entitled “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Occupational Risk Factors: Analysis of the University of Michigan ALS Patient Repository Database.” My study examined occupational exposures in a group of Michigan adults by comparing self-reported occupational history with exposures measured using biomarkers in blood samples. My PPRT project showed that occupational exposures to pesticides were linked to ALS in a case-control study. Additionally, pesticide concentrations in blood and ALS are correlated, which suggests that exposure to pesticides is a significant risk factor for ALS.
Both my doctoral program and my PPRT project have strengthened my research skills and provided me with access to some amazing datasets. During the remainder of my postdoctoral position, I will continue to learn new exposure assessment and statistical methods and apply them to critical public health questions. The need for this work is very high because public awareness of health issues has risen, and people pay more and more attention to the quality of their lives, their workplaces, and their living environments. After my postdoctoral position, I plan to continue my research in a university, government agency, or research institute.
Mary Ellen Hicks MPH '12 -Industrial Hygiene
Due to a family history of cancer, I started college at Purdue University with the intent of becoming an oncologist. I wanted to help fight the disease that had affected my family. I came to realize, however, that becoming a medical doctor wasn’t the only, or necessarily the best, way to achieve this objective. By the time patients visit an oncologist, they already have cancer. I decided instead to focus on reducing and eliminating the hazards and conditions that can lead to cancer and other environmentally triggered diseases in the first place and I pursued dual degrees in Occupational Health Science and Environmental Health Sciences.
While an undergraduate, I decided that I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree in Industrial Hygiene. After attending the University of Michigan School of Public Health (UM SPH) Recruitment Weekend, where I spent the weekend meeting professors and learning about the active student organizations and the practical hands-on approach of the program, I decided to apply for their Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree in Industrial Hygiene (IH). Despite already having a job offer from Alcoa, the company I had been interning with as an undergraduate, this experience, along with the encouragement of my Alcoa mentor, ultimately led me to decide to attend UM SPH.
While at UM SPH, I enjoyed how the courses focused on practical, real world Industrial Hygiene applications. There, I also actively participated in UM student organizations, such as the University of Michigan Industrial Hygiene Student Association (UMIHSA). During the 2nd year of my program, I served as UMIHSA’s president. This helped me acquire leadership skills and provided me with an abundance of networking opportunities. For instance, one responsibility of the UMIHSA president is to lead the Q&A session of the “Warren Cook Industrial Hygiene Discussional,” a yearly day and a half event hosted by COHSE which consists of discussions by prominent leaders in the IH field.
After graduating in 2012, I was welcomed back by Alcoa as the Industrial Hygiene Professional at their plant in Chandler, AZ. I was responsible for managing exposure assessment, hearing conservation, asbestos, respiratory protection, and radiation control programs at the site. While there I improved their exposure assessment audit score, created an updated plant-wide noise map of the facility, led the Ergonomics Team in reducing ergonomic risks, and provided training for plant leaders and employees. Then, as luck happened, an opportunity opened up with Abbott Laboratories in Casa Grande, AZ at the same time Alcoa was considering moving me to another location. So, I reached out to a few UM SPH alumni I knew through my involvement with UMIHSA who were working for Abbott. They remembered me and they put in a good word with my current manager. I am now working as an Environmental, Health and Safety Specialist at Abbott Laboratories where I am responsible for environmental programs such as hazardous waste management, recycling initiatives, air emissions and water management. I also lead ongoing industrial hygiene, ergonomic and safety improvement programs. Call it the “Michigan connection” or the “Michigan difference” – it has made it possible for me to have a career preventing workplace illness and injury, and making a difference in people’s lives.
Neal Wiggermann PhD '11 -Occupational Health Safety
It was enthusiasm for occupational safety and health and a little luck that ultimately led me to pursue my PhD at the University of Michigan. I received both my bachelors and masters degrees in Industrial Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. As an industrial engineer studying work, something we do for nearly half of our waking life, I became fascinated with the idea of helping to enhance worker safety and quality of life through improved workplace design. I decided to obtain a PhD in order to gain more specialized ergonomics knowledge and learn the research methods that would assist in this pursuit.
While investigating which university to attend for my PhD, I learned about the Occupational Safety Engineering & Ergonomics (OSE) program and a General Motors/United Auto Workers (GM/UAW) sponsored ergonomics project at the University of Michigan (UM). My desire to reduce the risk of injury for employees, to improve workplace safety, and to increase workplace efficiency seemed well aligned with the GM/UAW project’s objectives. After reviewing the program information and faculty profiles provided through the COHSE and Industrial Operations Engineering (IOE) websites and networking with the students, faculty, and staff of the IOE department, it was clear that UM was going to be a great fit for me.
From the beginning of my PhD program, I worked as a research assistant on the GM/UAW project. The project constituted an epidemiological study of workers in an engine assembly plant that investigated risk factors for lower extremity disorders. My role in this project was to assess worker exposures to potential risk factors such as working posture (i.e., sitting, standing, walking) and flooring conditions. During the GM/UAW project I became interested in the effects of flooring design on discomfort during prolonged standing, and this ultimately became the focus of my dissertation research. Under the guidance of my academic advisor, OSE Director Monroe Keyserling, my research investigated pressure on the foot as a potential mechanism to explain discomfort and the role of flooring design. During my PhD program I also served as the president of the student chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), and I presented my research at their annual national conferences.
Since graduating in 2011, I have been working as an Ergonomics Specialist and Senior Biomedical Engineer at Hill-Rom, a medical device company that specializes in hospital beds, patient handling equipment, and operating room equipment. I manage their new ergonomics laboratory, where we perform original research to inform device design as well as test new product prototypes. As part of my job, I visit medical facilities to observe how our products are used and understand the needs of their users. In addition to shadowing nurses to observe their job demands, I am also able to talk with patients about their needs. Understanding the hospital environment not only ensures that the experiments I design in the lab faithfully reproduce the work environment but also enables me to effectively work with engineers and designers at Hill-Rom to develop products that reduce the risk of injury to both nurses and patients.
As I continue developing our lab and research program at Hill-Rom I plan to continue working with nurses to improve the safety of the hospital room environment. I also expect to broaden our research program to more applications in the operating room. Additionally, I am particularly interested in expanding partnerships with university researchers and governmental agencies to fill industry-wide research needs. I also plan to have greater involvement with students, which I hope to achieve through mentoring interns, guest lecturing, and perhaps one day teaching a night course.
My PhD program at UM prepared me well for my current role and my future career aspirations. My doctoral research provided the knowledge and skills needed to successfully lead research and collaborate with design teams to improve caregiver safety and health and patient outcomes. These are skills that I use every day in my work.
Kevin Abernethy MPH '10 -Industrial Hygiene
I attended Utah State University for my bachelors degree in Public Health, with a minor in Chemistry. There I focused on Industrial Hygiene and participated in two internships in the field, one with a semiconductor company and the other in the automotive industry. These experiences led me to see how important both my choice to pursue a masters degree and my choice of school would be to my future career.
I applied to and was accepted into many Masters of Public Health programs; however, the Industrial Hygiene (IH) program at the University of Michigan (UM) stood out compared to the rest. Not only is the IH program part of a larger School of Public Health, it is also affiliated with a Center (COHSE) whose focus is entirely on occupational health and safety. Furthermore, in addition to the fundamental curriculum of the IH program, opportunities such as a concentration in hazardous substance management and the ability to take courses from other schools at the university were available.
The aspects of the IH program which have been most influential for my career were the internship opportunities and course offerings. I had the chance to interview with companies such as Chevron, Marathon, and Abbott. These opportunities may not have been available had I attended a smaller or less recognized IH program. Additionally, Prof. Ted Zellers’ hands-on laboratory course “Environmental Sampling and Analysis Laboratory,” where we learned to use sampling equipment, take samples, and analyze data, and the field trip course, “Occupational Health Aspects of Industrial Processes,” which immersed students in ongoing industrial processes, potential hazards, and controls at companies such as the Ford Focus plant and Dow Chemical, would not have been available at other institutions.
Since graduating from UM in 2010, I have held several different Industrial Hygienist positions with Chevron. In New Orleans, LA, I supported offshore exploration and production for oil and gas. Then, in Bakersfield, CA, I provided health and environmental safety support for new projects where I identified health threats to employees, provided risk analysis, developed policies, and ensured the proper environmental and procedural controls were utilized. I have learned that Industrial Hygiene is extremely competitive at large companies where senior hygienists have enormous responsibility and are highly visible within their management structure. I now have a greater appreciation of the skills I obtained at UM.
I have just accepted a new set of responsibilities, and will be working in Kuwait for two to three years on a large capital project. I will be responsible for analyzing the health and safety aspects of this major project, and living out my passion for protecting people and the environment. My MPH degree from UM has enabled me to do this.
Hien Q. Le PhD '08 -Industrial Hygiene
Which university should I attend? What will I study? Will I attend graduate school? Having grown up as the youngest of 10 children in South Vietnam after the war ended, questions of this sort were not even on my radar. My dad lost his job working for the South Vietnamese government, which put my family under severe economic stress. Whether we would be kicked out of our own house and where the next day’s meal would come from, however, were constant concerns.
Despite my humble upbringing, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and was working as a research and development chemist for a biomedical company in Berkeley, California. I enjoyed my job, but something was missing; at the end of the day, the job was not satisfying and I couldn’t imagine myself working in a lab for the rest of my life. It was then, during a flight to visit my homeland that I happened to sit next to a CDC officer working on HIV/AIDS prevention in South East Asia who also happened to be an alumnus from the University of Michigan School of Public Health (UM SPH). Our discussions on that flight inspired me to think of further educational possibilities. After I returned from my trip, I decided to quit my job and to go back to school.
In 2002 I applied to and was accepted into the second class of the newly created Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology (OEE) Masters of Public Health (MPH) program at UM SPH. My original plan was to obtain my MPH and then find a job in the field; however, in the second year of my program those plans changed. At that time, I became a research assistant for Stuart Batterman on a project focusing on air pollution. Stuart convinced me to continue on for the PhD, which I started in 2004. In fact, I continued my research on air pollution for my dissertation which focused on the association of ambient air pollution exposure with adverse birth outcomes among women and respiratory related illness among children in the Detroit metropolitan area. This was one of only a few studies that included a large underrepresented population.
Since graduating from UM in 2008, I have been working as a research investigator for the DuPont Epidemiology Program where I have conducted occupational health research with an emphasis on contemporary occupational epidemiology with a global perspective, which is a new research direction in the field. Rather than conducting epidemiological studies on occupational mortality, my research has taken a prospective approach to focus on musculoskeletal disorders, preventive care and wellness. In 2015, I will begin a new position as the lead epidemiologist for a new company to be created from DuPont Chemicals and Fluoroproducts and DuPont Titanium Technologies. I will continue conducting occupational health research. Going forward, I also plan to take advantage of other professional opportunities including guest lecturing and teaching at colleges and universities, actively participating on COHSE’s External Advisory Board, and presenting research at international professional conferences. Taking a new direction, utilizing new methodologies in occupational and environmental health research, and conducting regulatory risk assessments are all a part of my future, a future which will rely significantly on the training I received at the University of Michigan.