Q and A with Apostolis Sambanis
Apostolis earned his Master of Science in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in 2012 and his currently a student in the PhD in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences program.
What job did you obtain following graduation?
I’m currently working for Honeywell as a Health Safety Environment Generalist (HSE).
Honeywell is a large manufacturing company; I work for the UOP Division, or Universal Oil Products. We do research and development for the oil and gas industries. We make a lot of products—catalysts, absorbents, etc. Basically, we create technology, patent it, and then get royalties from its use. .
What are you doing day-to-day?
There are three main areas that I oversee. First: Training all employees, in HSE-related training. Second: I’m in charge of continuing our RC14001 industry certification, which is a certification that was developed by the American Energy Council. I make sure that that our operations and pit people meet the requirements of that certification so that we don’t lose it, even when the certification standards change.
Then, finally, I’m also in charge of transportation; I manage all the transportation and regulatory measures. I keep us in compliance with the Department of Transportation (DOT), International Air Regulation, and Marine Regulations.
These are the big headings for what I do, but there are other things as well. I also work with the emergency response team that we have on site, as well as the safety management system—basically, our safety and review processes.
Some of my activities involve behind-the-desk work, but I’m also going out in the field. We go into lab areas; we go into pilot plants (which are basically mini chemical refineries—with pumps, reactors, etc.). We also have the manufacturing plant and various shops, like for welding, glass-blowing, and machining. I could be at any of those places on a given day. Moving around like that definitely keeps the work interesting.
What excites you most about this job?
Mainly, I like learning about the new operations and the new technology. That’s the benefit of being in R&D – things are constantly changing and there are new innovations. There is never a dull moment around here.
Also, there are a lot of the people who work here, and they range from blue collar to having a PhD in the field. I’m constantly learning new things while interacting with all these different types of people, and, in general, the work is quite challenging.
How do you feel the MS in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences program prepared you for this job?
Well, first of all, I got my bachelor’s in Earth & Environmental Science at UIC and was doing environmental consulting work. I was considered a geologist at the time—doing environmental sampling and such. Eventually, though, I wanted to expand more into the private sector, and the graduate program in EOHS allowed me to do that.
The EOHS program gave me more of the Health Safety Environment (HSE) stuff, rather than just having an environmental focus, and that allowed me to be a more attractive candidate in the private sector. In particular, the industrial hygiene (IH) element of the program gave me the skills I needed for the kind of private sector work that I do now.
What attracted you to UIC’s program, as opposed to other schools?
I heard good things about EOHS when I was in my bachelor’s at UIC. People who had taken one or two courses in the program told me how the things they learned were opening up work for them in the private sector—giving them skills they’d need—and that’s what I wanted.
And, I mean, the program itself in general…it seems to me that it’s best in the area, especially for what I wanted. There are some other programs, but many of them are not broad-based. Also, I’m a Chicago native, so it was nice to have a great option so close to home.
But, really, another thing that reinforces UIC as a great choice is the fact that I have 2-3 people working with me right now at Honeywell who are also grads of the program. So, that’s a good sign.
What was your favorite aspect of the program?
The flexibility is one thing I definitely appreciated. I have been working full time and have still been able to take my courses. Having the ability to take online courses, or have a flexible schedule, has been extremely important to me. I didn’t want to lose work experience while I was trying to move on in my private career, and the EOHS program and my employer have both been accommodating.
Can you think of a particularly memorable aspect of your experience?
Dr. Franke’s ventilation course. We went to the lab and then actually did the measurements in the workplace. That memory sticks out with me…actually going into the area and seeing the things that you’re learning get put into practice. That kind of experience brings skills that you can’t get just sitting in the classroom, and that can definitely help in the long term.
Were there faculty or staff who made a notable impact on you?
My advisors – particularly Dr. Cailas, who has been very helpful with my career.
What advice would you give an incoming graduate student at UIC? Is there something you wish you had known when you started out?
One piece of advice I would give is to try to get the work experience, or the hands-on experience, as well as the education. Depending on where people want to go in their careers, I think that having work experience is very important—certain employers want to see that you’ve done these things in the real world, not just learned about them. Internships and things can help with that. It’s also another reason to take advantage of the many hands-on opportunities offered through the program; those things will be immensely helpful in showing a future employer that you not only have the abstract knowledge, but you also have the practical skills.
What was the most challenging aspect of graduate school for you, and how did you overcome that challenge?
The most challenging thing for me has been balancing work, my personal life, and my academic responsibilities. The way I’ve overcome this is just by continually working with my employer and with the school to get my schedule sorted out. If you commit to planning ahead and to carefully managing your time, you can make it work.
Any concluding thoughts?
EOHS has a great program, and, in general, I look back fondly at everything I’ve done. The resources, knowledge, and skills that EOHS has given me are tremendous.