Walls, a 26-year-old University of Washington student, expects to graduate in June 2012 with an M.S. in environmental and occupational exposure science. He was chosen as the recipient of the Future Leaders in EHS scholarship based on his work experience and community outreach, his philosophy toward occupational health and safety, a stellar academic record, strong recommendations and a demonstrated devotion to underrepresented workers.
PureSafety and EHS Today launched the Future Leaders in EHS Program in 2010 to support and encourage EHS students as they lead the way in keeping tomorrow’s workers safe, healthy and on the job. As the 2011 recipient, Walls will receive a $5,000 scholarship, access to PureSafety’s safety and health software and information solutions and will serve on the EHS Today editorial advisory board for 2 years.
Serving Vulnerable Workers
Walls has left his footprint in the occupational health, safety and industrial hygiene field across the globe: in Chile, where he worked as a disaster restoration worker following the nation’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake, and in Ecuador, where he studied workers’ risk of pesticide exposure. But it was his work here as a crew leader and project supervisor for a hazardous materials remediation team that helped set him firmly on an EHS career path.
“Almost all of my coworkers were immigrants from Latin America. There was a huge disconnect between management and workers,” Walls said. “I’ve seen firsthand how people could be brushed to the side and the brunt of hazardous work is done by people who come from these marginalized populations. They’re not always well represented and they don’t always understand the hazards.”
In his scholarship application, Walls noted that he “developed a great deal of compassion for the sacrifices people make to earn a living; often humbling themselves in menial jobs, enduring long hours and submitting to dangerous work conditions … It was this experience that really cemented my desire to enter the field of EHS as a means of helping to make sure that people like my former coworkers are appropriately represented and protected in the workplace.”
Walls pursued graduate studies in environmental and occupational exposure science in order to gain the expertise necessary to fulfill his goal of protecting the health of workers, including those who are otherwise underrepresented in the workplace.
Today, Walls is working on his thesis project, which involves a shipyard welding intervention study. The goal is to teach shipyard welders to use general exhaust ventilation techniques to more effectively reduce their exposures to welding fumes.
“We’re trying to find simple, practical guidelines they can actually use and implement in a dynamic work environment,” he explained.
Walls, who grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and now lives in Seattle, aspires to work in an industrial hygiene position that provides him with the freedom to drive change to better protect workers’ health. When he looks to the future, he says he hopes to obtain a job “that gives me exposure to a broad array of industrial hygiene, safety and environmental issues. I would like to work for an organization that has a solid safety culture, allows me some creativity to perform my tasks and has a good work-life balance.”
Walls added that the Future Leaders in EHS scholarship will “make a huge impact” on his educational journey.
“Funding is a big deal for graduate students. This will be a huge help for me,” he said. “It will allow me to focus on my research and not worry so much about making my tuition bill. I’m really excited.”