Over 200 undergraduate science students have participated in a 12-week, paid summer internship over a 15-year period. Selection processes, stipends, mentor selection, evaluation, and career preparation success are presented below.
Sam Houston State University is a regional state university in Texas that offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees. These include degrees in education, business, the fine arts, agriculture, criminal justice, as well as others. It has a disproportionate number of students studying criminal justice, which is explained by the fact that Huntsville, Texas, is the headquarters for the Texas Department of Corrections. The University was founded in 1879 as a teacher-training institution. In 1965, Sam Houston State Teachers College became Sam Houston State College; fours years later, it acquired its current University designation. Since that time, there has been a metamorphosis at the University whereby many new programs and advanced degrees have been added.
The 15,600-student population university is located approximately 70 miles from downtown Houston. The 18-county area of Southeast Texas has a current population of approximately 5.7 million, which is up from approximately 3.5 million in 1980. Nearly 65 percent of that population is located in Harris County, which includes Houston. The principal industries of Southeast Texas involve petrochemical companies. These industries range from refineries to specialized companies that use raw materials produced from hydrocarbons. The area also includes a major seaport, a large medical center, a major installation for aerospace, and a variety of other companies typical of large cities.
The Environmental Science Program at Sam Houston State University was initiated in 1970 after a committee of faculty members performed a survey of industries of Southeast Texas to determine what type of an academic background would best serve the needs of area employers. The survey generally pointed to an education in the basic sciences with a few specialty courses that involved law, water and wastewater, air quality, and instrumentation. The program that was ultimately approved was an interdisciplinary program in the basic sciences. A graduate with a B.S. Degree in Environmental Science has typically completed six chemistry courses, four or five biology courses, mathematics through calculus, two physics courses, physical geology, and five environmental science courses with industrial hygiene being one of the possible course.. The program was not designed to produce a highly specialized technician-type of graduate, but rather one that was well prepared as a scientist, with more latitude to enter a variety of entry-level positions.
During the early years of the program, few students entered careers of safety or industrial hygiene. In the 1980s, more students seemed to be interested in safety and industrial hygiene mainly because of information that was often acquired from newspaper articles related to industrial accidents, the handling of certain types of waste, indoor air quality, and a variety of other things from entities in our region. To begin to address those needs, the University employed a faculty member to teach an introductory course in Industrial Hygiene and Safety.