Alumna Makes Plans to Support Future Industrial Hygienists

Alumna Barb Epstein monitors decibel levels at a work site.

“When I entered the MPH program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I originally thought I would focus on community health or health planning,” recalls Barb Epstien (MPH ’78), CIH.  “But, after taking Bill Hallenbeck’s course in environmental health, I realized that I had always had an interest in the environmental impact on human health.”

Epstien, who earned her undergraduate degree in sociology and anthropology, first learned about the field of public health from her academic advisor.  An interest in health care systems and medical sociology led her to pursue an advanced degree that she would one day credit to opening many doors in public health, and particularly in occupational health.  Today, she and her husband, Julian Gray, have plans to make a gift from their estate that will fund programs in the UIC SPH division of environmental and occupational health sciences because she “wants to help grow and sustain the industrial hygiene profession.”

As a student in the late-1970s, Epstien also worked on  a grant to study the air quality at a sewage treatment facility.  “I conducted outdoor air sampling to help characterize sludge aerosols at and around the facility, providing data that folks in the epidemiology department then used to help evaluate health effects in the surrounding community.  This experience was a great blend of community health and environmental health.”

Epstien did her practicum with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and it turned into a job where she worked for eight years. Her supervisor valued the combination of her liberal arts undergraduate degree and her MPH.  Reflecting further, she explains, “I liked UIC’s multi-disciplinary approach to public health.  It was consistent with my approach to education in general and it allowed me to learn a little bit about the different areas in which public health professionals work.”  She believes that a great public health program is one where many aspects of the field are taught so that students gain a broad understanding of the field.  “In my work, I notice that some of my colleagues who were trained in the hard sciences, like biology or chemistry, do not always have the same approach to occupational health as I do.  I’ve had clients tell me that I am able to effectively understand and communicate the broader aspects of the situation that go beyond the science.”  She says that she has been able to evolve in her public health career and her “degree was a catalyst for my current role as an independent industrial hygiene consultant.”

When making a very personal choice to financially support UIC SPH, Epstien says that she at first didn’t realize that UIC needed her support.  “I have always supported my undergraduate college because it is a small, private institution.  I must admit I didn’t realize that state universities also need support from its alumni.”  With, on average, only 20% of the school’s operating budget coming from the State of Illinois, UIC SPH is relying more and more on the generosity of its alumni and friends to ensure students receive a high quality education.

Epstien felt it was important to give back to UIC because her MPH degree gave her the jump start to grow her professional career.  “After learning about deferred gifts, my husband and I decided to leave part of our estate to the UIC School of Public Health to support the environmental and occupational health sciences division.  It’s important to both my husband and me to support institutions that we care about and that have had an impact on us.”