WVU, University of Puerto Rico industrial hygiene students collaborate to expand knowledge and cultural connections

Graduate students in the industrial hygiene program at West Virginia University recently had the opportunity to expand their understanding of their field and connect across cultures.

Supported by funding through the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Training Project Grants, the WVU School of Public Health hosted industrial hygiene students from the University of Puerto Rico for a multiday collaborative learning experience.   

“We're planting this seed of a large industrial hygiene ‘collaboration tree’ between West Virginia University and the University of Puerto Rico,” said Director of the Industrial Hygiene Program Sergio Caporali-Filho, who initiated the experience by connecting with former colleague and UPR CDC-NIOSH training program grant director, Aluisio Pimenta.  

“We had this idea of making this interchange so that our students can learn here [at WVU],” Pimenta said. “All this interaction between and among students of different cultural backgrounds is very important because, when you go out into the workforce, you never know where you're going to go.”

Between Feb. 19-24, 13 UPR graduate students accompanied by Pimenta, spent time in the continental United States. Included in the itinerary were attending industrial hygiene classes, collaborating during an industrial ventilation workshop, taking a field trip to industry partner Northwestern Hardwoods in Pennsylvania, and even making room in the schedule for a ski trip to Wisp Resort in McHenry, Maryland.

For Ryan Titus, a WVU industrial hygiene student and a recent graduate of the B.S. in Public Health program, this experience was an opportunity to meet people who were studying the same topic as him.

“We're a small program and it feels like there's no one else like us out there. I don't know any industrial hygiene students outside of WVU, so it's nice to meet other people who are learning and experiencing the same things as us,” said Titus, who also serves as the American Industrial Hygiene Association WVU Student Chapter president.  

For Valerie Durant Muñiz, the AIHA Puerto Rico Student Chapter president, the trip to West Virginia was a way to build connections that will lead to being future colleagues. 

“I learned during this visit that no matter where in the world you come from, we all have the same vision and mission,” she said. 

Jonathan Hale, featured guest speaker and mentor for the industrial ventilation workshop and president of Air Systems Corporation, said this event was “more than just a chance to see old friends like Sergio Caporali-Filho and to teach”—it was a way to work with the next generation of industrial hygienists.  

“They're the people that will inherit this [industry] and they'll take it on,” said Hale, who also serves as Chairman of the ACGIH Industrial Ventilation Committee. “It's a great honor to be able to come back and give this to them and pay it forward.”

As a next step, Caporali-Filho hopes the collaboration will lead to WVU students visiting UPR to give them an opportunity to learn about the industries that populate Puerto Rico. 

“This time, we took the WVU and UPR students to a wood mill, which is an industry that doesn't really exist in Puerto Rico,” he said. “The idea is to take our students to a pharmaceutical environment there.” 

Looking to the future, Caporali-Filho hopes to strengthen the relationship between the two institutions—a relationship that’s already been forged through activities in and out of the classroom, including a karaoke night on the last day of the UPR delegation’s Morgantown visit.

“Everybody sang together. They sang in Spanish and sang in English, and the activities were well received by everybody else that was in this place,” he said.

To learn more about WVU’s Master of Science degree in Industrial Hygiene, visit the School of Public Health website.

Pictured, top to bottom: Jonathan Hale works with WVU and UPR students in the lab portion of the week's events; Assembled faculty, staff and students of WVU and UPR at the kickoff breakfast; Director of the Industrial Hygiene Program Sergio Caporali-Filho works alongside UPR and WVU students in the lab activity. (WVU Photo/Davidson Chan) 

CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health
304.293.1699; nikky.luna@hsc.wvu.edu